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Massive I-94 modernization efforts to limit residential and commercial displacement, officials say

I-94 in Midtown

It's not a widening of Interstate 94 so much as it is a right-sizing, Michigan Department of Transportation officials said of their plans to update the aging freeway at a media round table on Monday, June 8, at the agency's Detroit Operations Service Center on Fort Street.

While the 6.7-mile-long modernization project stretching through the heart of Detroit will cause the displacement and demolition of some structures, MDOT officials say that the majority of the construction will occur within the existing footprint of the Interstate. Because I-94 is bounded by sloping mounds of earth, any lane additions will be accommodated by eliminating the landscaped hills in favor of vertical retaining walls similar to ones found along I-696.

Neighborhood residents and various organizations have been vocal in their concerns that efforts to widen I-94 will result in the displacement of residents and businesses. Officials insist that their goal is to minimize any displacement and keep as much of the construction within the Interstate's existing footprint as possible.

"We don't want to turn this into L.A., and we don't want to turn this into Atlanta," says MDOT communications specialist Rob Morosi, referencing the wide, sprawling freeways that characterize those cities.

Still, displacement will occur. According to officials, 16 residential structures and 18 commercial structures will be in the way of construction along the 6.7-mile stretch. One of those buildings is United Sound Systems Recording Studios, historic for its role in Detroit's musical legacy. Talks are currently underway to perhaps move or work around that building, officials say. Also at risk of removal are the Brooklyn Street pedestrian bridge over I-94 and the Canfield pedestrian bridge over the John C. Lodge Expressway.

The I-94 modernization project will span the 6.7 miles between I-96 and Norcross Street, which is just east of Conner Avenue. Planned improvements include the extension and improvement of on-ramps, the elimination of left-lane exits and entrances, and the re-building of a crumbling infrastructure, including overpasses that haven't received significant upgrades since being built as early as 1954. Estimated costs come in at nearly $1.9 billion in today's dollars. Construction of the modernization project's three phases will not be completed until 2036.

MDOT is hosting two open houses to present to and listen to feedback from the community. The first is from 9 to 11 a.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14, at Cathedral Church of St. Paul at 4800 Woodward Ave. The second occurs from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, at Wayne County Community College Eastern Campus at 5901 Conner Ave.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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