Road projects unscathed during virus shutdown

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 4, 2020

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METRO DETROIT — In a world turned upside-down by isolation and political unrest, there is one thing Michiganders can always count on: road construction.

The Interstate-75 Modernization project in Oakland County kicked off for the spring several weeks ago, closing down lanes, ramps and bridge crossings from 14 Mile Road through Rochester Road. The same goes for the final touches on Interstate-696 in Macomb County.

Diane Cross, the communications spokesperson for the metro Detroit branch of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said most projects weren’t impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.

“There has only been a few cases of work being delayed on a couple of small projects because a contractor was being cautious because of a staff concern,” she said. “And the lighter traffic volumes have been great for safety for the work zones but haven’t affected construction projects.”

The diminished traffic has been a nice silver lining for workers with the Road Commission for Oakland County, too, where Senior Manager of Communications and Public Information Craig Bryson said all county road projects are on schedule.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt, and the number of complaints we’re receiving when we have to close a road or a lane is certainly down,” Bryson said in an email. “However, the reduced traffic volumes also mean people are buying less gas.”

That’s a problem because revenue from gas taxes is one of the commission’s main sources of funding. He said the Road Commission is “very concerned about the budgetary impacts” of the statewide “stay home, stay safe” order.

While road construction workers were among the first permitted to go back to work, they haven’t been exempt from mandatory protection measures to contain the virus. That means that, along with hard hats and reflective vests, workers need to wear gloves and face masks, and stay 6 feet apart from others.

“(That) can add a lot of heat to any work day, so I can imagine the workers are feeling warmer, but everyone might be different,” Cross added.

Personal protective equipment is especially important in areas where workers are operating in tighter areas, like the main stretch of Maple Road through downtown Birmingham, which has been completely closed off to vehicles between South Old Woodward and Southfield Road since late April.

“We are prepared to manage more pedestrian traffic once the business district starts to reopen,” Chaz McCullah, the Angelo Iafrate Construction project manager for the Maple Road reconstruction, said in an email. “As with the Old Woodward project (last year), the construction route along Maple Road will remain isolated with barriers for pedestrians. We will reevaluate things toward the end of the project as barriers come down for work related to the sidewalks.”

McCullah added that the endeavor — a $7.2 million overhaul to include new sewer and water lines, updated landscaping and lighting, and of course, a resurfaced street and walkway — is 20% completed.