The Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) Interstate 94 Modernization Project in Detroit will bring the freeway up to current design standards, making the road safer and easier to maintain.
“Its time,” said Robert Morosi, Spokesperson for MDOT. “We are looking at a stretch of I-94, that carries 160,000 vehicles a day. It’s the busiest stretch of I-94 in Michigan.”
The current below-grade freeway was built between 1947 and 1958. Although it has been maintained in good condition and resurfaced several times, the road needs to be built to current design standards and volumes.
“The old design creates a lot of unnecessary congestion and also essentially, quite a few crashes,” Morosi said. “When the road was constructed they thought the depressed freeway would be beneficial for noise and pollution in the neighborhoods. But depressed freeways bring their own set of challenges with drainage and utilities.”
The project currently has under way two bridge replacements, one at Chene Street and the other at Gratiot Avenue. MDOT expects to let two additional bridge reconstructions in 2018 and four in 2019.
The Modernization Project
The entire modernization project will rebuild 7 miles of freeway from Conner Avenue on the east side and I-96 on the west side, adding another through lane in each direction; reconstruct 67 bridges, which have reached their design life and most are taking local roads over the freeway, with one over an old railway yard; and rebuild two major interchanges, with M-10 and I-75. The department started an Environmental Impact Study in 1994. Design and right-of-way acquisition moved forward in 2005.
The freeway once rebuilt will have accelerator and decelerator lanes to improve safety, Morosi explains. The interchange at M-10 was the first interstate-to-interstate interchange constructed in the country in the 1950s. One of the entrance ramps requires a left merge into traffic at the same location as a right merge from another direction.
“The interchange revamp will have right lane movements in all four directions,” Morosi says.
After workshops with citizens and the city of Detroit, MDOT made several modifications to improve connectivity and use of surface roads, while not expanding the freeway footprint. In summer 2017, the department began preparing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to address the modifications, which will take about two years to complete.
The Federal Highway Administration and MDOT are cost-sharing partners in the project. The department hired HNTB in Detroit as owner’s representative to assist with design, scheduling, management and quality assurance.
The freeway reconstruction is scheduled to begin in 2022 or 2023. The advanced bridge replacements are being completed first, due to their condition and that they will offer enhanced mobility for the neighborhoods during the freeway construction, Morosi says.
“One of the goals of the megaproject is to help build MDOT’s small business program,” says Bonnie Yu, Project Manager for MDOT. “We selected some small business consultants to help with this project. We are mentoring and training the businesses.”
The department unbundled some of the noncritical path work, such as landscaping and sidewalks, to open up opportunities for the smaller business contractors.
Morosi adds that goals of the program include helping firms prequalify for working with MDOT and to “keep talent in Michigan by increasing opportunities for design consultants and contractors. More consultants and contractors help with employment and help with cost. The more players the better the bids.”
The department plans to expand the Small Business Enterprise program to level the playing field. Skilled trades will be important in the city during the next five years as the community rebuilds, Morosi continues.
Construction of the Two Bridges
MDOT selected the Gratiot and Chene advanced bridge projects based on their importance to the communities and their ability to improve mobility in the area.
C.A. Hull Co. of Walled Lake, Michigan, received the approximately $24 million contract to reconstruct the first two bridges and to remove three pedestrian bridges, which had been closed due to structural issues.
Gratiot Avenue is a busy commuter route into and out of the city. The new bridge will be longer than the old one to accommodate the additional lanes when the I-94 reconstruction is completed. The new bridge also will be 20 feet wider, with a bike path, wide sidewalks and planter boxes.
It is being built using part-width sequencing. In March, the contractor demolished the northbound lanes and traffic was directed to the southbound lanes. The bridge is support on widespread footings.
Hull set the carbon-fiber reinforced concrete bulb T-beams for the new bridge in June. The 20 beams weighed 64 tons.
“The carbon fiber is an innovative material,” Yu says. “It has the ability to resist corrosion.”
MDOT has used carbon-fiber reinforced concrete on other projects with success and is still being evaluated. The department has used it on about 11 bridges so far, selecting different bridges to see how effective it is.
“The amount of road salts we use in the Detroit area leads to corrosion of the steel in the deck,” Morosi says. “We anticipate these beams will last 100 years.”
However, carbon-fiber reinforced concrete is more expensive up front, but the department expects to save money in the long term.
“We are doing our due diligence,” Morosi says.
The first half of Gratiot is expected to open in late July. At that time, traffic will shift to the new northbound bridge and work will begin on the southbound demolition and rebuilding.
The Chene Street bridge provides access to a General Motors plant in the vicinity. MDOT is lengthening this bridge as well. The bridge will continue to have two lanes in each direction and a turn lane.
While the freeway was closed for the beam placement at Gratiot, the contractor drove the steel H piles, support for the future pier at the Chene Street bridge. This was done to avoid rework at the bridge during the future I-94 roadwork. The road will be shift 50 feet to the north, necessitating new foundations. The Chene Street bridge will have steel beams.
The work on the bridges is scheduled for completion in November.
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