MDOT engineers said westbound Interstate 696 will be closed to through traffic between I-94 and I-75 for the duration of the project after it begins in April.

MDOT engineers said westbound Interstate 696 will be closed to through traffic between I-94 and I-75 for the duration of the project after it begins in April.

Photo by Brian Louwers


‘Restore the Reuther’ project looms for I-696

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published April 5, 2018

METRO DETROIT — In late March, Michigan Department of Transportation officials laid out more details of this year’s massive project aimed at improving all 28 miles of Interstate 696 in Macomb and Oakland counties.

One question, however, remained unanswered: When will the project — and the ensuing traffic insanity — start?

MDOT engineers said it depends on the contractor. Final approval of the construction bid remained pending at the time of a March 30 public meeting at Warren City Hall. But once that process is finalized, the “fast-track” project could start almost immediately, as the contractor would need to meet a “very, very aggressive schedule” in order to complete the work in a window expected to open in mid-April and close by early November.

Alan Ostrowski, MDOT construction manager for the I-696 project, said the anticipated $110 million endeavor will involve the complete reconstruction of the 40-year-old freeway in Macomb County and significant repairs to the worst sections in Oakland County.

The lion’s share of the work will be in Macomb, where 80-85 percent of the budget will be spent.

“The pavement condition, it’s well-documented that it’s beyond any rehab at this point,” Ostrowski said. “No amount of maintenance is going to keep this pavement going anymore. It’s 40 years old. Its life is over. It’s a full pavement replacement. Remove and replace.”

Ostrowski said westbound I-696 from Interstate 94 to Interstate 75 will be closed to through traffic for the duration of the project after it begins in April. During that time, barring a few temporary obstructions, traffic flow for eastbound motorists should remain relatively unaffected, with continued access to all exit and entrance ramps.

The official detour for westbound through traffic will take motorists along westbound I-94 into Detroit and then back north along I-75 to I-696. Additionally, Ostrowski said there will likely be an estimated 10-20 percent increase in traffic along east-west surface streets including Eight Mile, 10 Mile and 12 Mile roads.

Ostrowski said eastbound traffic will be diverted to the newly reconstructed westbound lanes sometime in July. When that happens, drivers heading east will be able to access I-75 and I-94, but will only be able to exit the freeway at Dequindre Road, Mound Road and Groesbeck Highway in that stretch. Once they exit, they won’t be able to get back on the freeway.

In addition to completely replacing the pavement, work on the Macomb County section of the project includes repairs to the roadway shoulder, barrier walls, ramps and the service drive; drainage and signage improvements; and new fencing.

Ostrowski said work in Oakland County will be “a little less significant,” but more dynamic.

“We are going to improve the condition of the 16 miles of 696 in Oakland County,” Ostrowski said. “That pavement has a little bit of life left in it. This is heavy maintenance work.”

Concrete pavement and joint repairs, drainage improvements, and flood mitigation work are planned. Drivers can expect to experience a total of 10 weekend freeway closures in Oakland County over the life of the project this year.

“There’ll be regular lane closures at night and then full closures on the weekend,” Ostrowski said. “During the day, during the week, there are no planned lane closures. Everything should be open for your rush hours and your normal weekly travel, but at night, during the week, there will be double and triple lane closures. One lane will always remain open during the week.”

While no weekend dates for the closures were set, they have been broken down into four sections for the eastbound and westbound lanes between Interstate 275 and Telegraph Road, and between Telegraph and I-75.

Five of the weekend closures are expected on the eastbound side between Telegraph and I-75. Through traffic along that stretch over the affected weekends will be detoured along M-10 to the eastbound Davison Freeway and then back north on I-75 to I-696.

Two closures in that stretch are also planned for the westbound side, with traffic detoured south along I-75 to Eight Mile and then back north to I-696 on M-10.

 The section of eastbound I-696 from I-275 to Telegraph is expected to be closed for two weekends this year. Traffic will be detoured along Grand River Avenue to Eight Mile and then back to Telegraph.

The westbound stretch between Telegraph and I-275 is expected to be closed just once, with traffic again detouring along Telegraph, Eight Mile and Grand River.

Officials said work on I-696 needs to be done this year ahead of the impending five-year “mega project” along I-75 in Oakland County.

“We can’t have work going on in these two major corridors in the metro Detroit area at the same time,” Ostrowski said. “The choice was do it now or wait until that is over in five years. This pavement cannot wait any longer.”

Crews will be back along I-696 for additional service drive repairs between Couzens Road and I-94 in 2019.

“Your roof has needed replacement. It’s 20 years old. You should have done it at 10 or 15, but you don’t have the money. Suddenly, it just can’t take it anymore. How come? Because you’ve only been doing minimal maintenance. What you really needed to do was replace the roof,” MDOT spokesperson Diane Cross said. “We have that going on everywhere.”

Cross said it would take a minimum of $1 billion per year to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure that has been underfunded for decades.

“It doesn’t cost as much if you’re investing all along. You don’t have to totally rebuild everything. But if you let it go to the point where you can’t repair it anymore, then you have to rebuild it,” Cross said.

You’ll find the latest information about the I-696 reconstruction and repair projects on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MvgMacomb, on Twitter @MovingMacomb and online at www.movingmacomb.org.