Description and Details

The I‑375 in east­ern down­town Detroit will be reimag­ined with new fund­ing avail­abil­i­ty after the free­way has neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties since its open­ing in 1964. The free­way was built in the 1950s and 1960s to aid sub­ur­ban com­muters. Its con­struc­tion destroyed Black Bot­tom and Par­adise Val­ley res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial dis­tricts that were pre­dom­i­nant­ly black com­mu­ni­ties. This result­ed in a dis­place­ment of over 130,000 peo­ple and hun­dreds of local busi­ness­es lost. Over the decades, local lead­ers have advo­cat­ed for changes to the infra­struc­ture that would bet­ter serve the com­mu­ni­ty. In 2013, a pro­pos­al led by the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and the City of Detroit was cre­at­ed to change the I‑375 from a sunken free­way to a low­er-speed boule­vard at street level.

The I‑375 pro­pos­al, approved by the Fed­er­al High­way Admin­is­tra­tion,  will replace the mile-long con­nec­tor between the I‑75 and Jef­fer­son Avenue with a six-lane boule­vard that aims to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty enjoy­ment. By rais­ing the cur­rent road­way by 20 feet, the free­way will inte­grate with exist­ing streets and allow for urban renew­al. Safe­ty will be improved with wider side­walks, improved bike lanes, traf­fic smart tech­nolo­gies, and LED light­ing. The boule­vard will change to four lanes from Jef­fer­son to Atwa­ter, with addi­tion­al traf­fic changes aim­ing to increase safe­ty and improve nav­i­ga­tion. In addi­tion to these changes, the I‑375 will be removed from the Inter­state Sys­tem of High­ways. The boule­vard will aim to sup­port local busi­ness­es and res­i­dences with the poten­tial for excess prop­er­ty for new growth. Cur­rent fund­ing sources for the project include a $104.6 mil­lion grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Infra­struc­ture for Rebuild­ing Amer­i­ca Pro­gram. This grant is among the $1.5 bil­lion towards 26 sim­i­lar projects and part of the $1 tril­lion fund­ing of the bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture bill. The project is esti­mat­ed to cost $300 mil­lion, with con­struc­tion aim­ing to begin in 2025. The project is still not ful­ly funded. 

While this project aims to spur eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, pro­vide gen­er­a­tional wealth, and heal a dis­rupt­ed com­mu­ni­ty, there are con­cerns if the right changes will occur to address the his­tor­i­cal impacts on the com­mu­ni­ty. One con­cern is noise pol­lu­tion which was found to not decrease with pro­posed changes to the I‑375. This has prompt­ed con­cerns if oth­er issues will be effec­tive­ly addressed, like air pol­lu­tion and equi­ty. The City of Detroit has been clear that they want com­mu­ni­ty input and all voic­es to be heard, includ­ing those not in Black Bot­tom and Par­adise Val­ley, for advice on mov­ing the city for­ward. This project could high­light that change is good, but it is impor­tant to be inten­tion­al in plan­ning and ana­lyz­ing if ben­e­fi­cial changes are being made to improve the area.

CEE sub­jects: Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy and Sus­tain­able Infra­struc­ture, Trans­porta­tion Engineering

Discussion Questions

  • How can we have effec­tive urban plan­ning to address the issues that cre­at­ed the need for re-imag­in­ing the I‑375 in the first place?
  • What role do civil/environmental engi­neers play in ensur­ing the plan­ning and con­struc­tion process is effec­tive? What are exam­ples of these to consider/do?
  • How can DEI be used to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for Detroit while tak­ing the his­to­ry of the area into consideration?