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New draft for I-94 overhaul in Detroit includes less widening, better pedestrian bridges

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Despite adding lanes in each direction, MDOT says the new plan will result in less displacement

A freeway interchange. Green signs on a pedestrian bridge point to I-96 east and west. Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

For years, MDOT has been working on a plan to modernize I-94 on the 6.7-mile stretch in Detroit between I-96 and Conner Avenue. Finally, it seems to be coming together.

In a recently released draft of its “Environmental Impact Statement,” which details how the project would affect residents, MDOT lays out its latest plans for the I-94 overhaul. Changes from previous drafts are pretty substantial.

MDOT has been making the case for an update to I-94 all the way back in 2004, arguing that the modernization is necessary to meet certain design and safety standards, address traffic congestion on the busy stretch, and make multimodal improvements.

The plan has gone through several iterations since then, in large part due to community pushback on key issues. In particular, residents didn’t like the widening of I-94’s footprint, which would result in too many building relocations, and the elimination of pedestrian bridges.

In the latest plan, both these issues are addressed.

Another lane will still be added in each direction on the freeway, as well as the shoulder widened. But to mitigate displacement and traffic routing issues, service drives will be redesigned and the total I-94 footprint won’t be as large as previously planned. As a result, property displacement decreased by 61 percent for residential and 17 percent for commercial.

That also includes the United Sounds System studio, which MDOT bought earlier this year and plans to relocate.

Some of service drives will be converted to two-lanes with traffic in each direction and have a bike lane added.

And in more positive news for cyclists and pedestrians, most non-motorized bridges will not only be kept, but converted into “complete street” bridges. Instead of narrow, elevated bridges accessible only by ramp, nine bridges will have street-level access for all modes of transit and include both bike lanes and sidewalks.

A diagram of a complete street bridge. On either side of the road, there are lanes for a sidewalk, bike, and car. Via MDOT

Three new pedestrian bridges will even be added, including one at Connor Avenue for the Iron Belle Trail, part of Michigan’s 2,000-mile non-motorized trail network. Unfortunately, the Third Avenue bridge will be removed due to improvements made at the M-10 to I-94 interchange.

Even bike and trail advocates like the Detroit Greenways Coalition are enthusiastic about the changes.

We’re still a ways out from this plan coming to fruition. Construction is expected to start in 2023 and continue through 2036. MDOT currently estimates the project will cost $2.8 billion.

There’s much more outlined in the 214-page document, which you can read for yourself here. MDOT provides lots of info about the I-94 modernization on its dedicated website.

And residents will have a chance to hear a summary of the plan and voice their opinions at two community events on October 10, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Detroit Historical Museum and from 4 to 8 p.m. at Wayne County Community College’s Eastern Campus.