Description and Details

The Michi­gan Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (MDOT) announced a pause in the I‑375 Recon­nect­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Project to address res­i­dent feed­back and con­cerns. The redesign of I‑375 in down­town Detroit orig­i­nal­ly tar­get­ed for com­ple­tion in 2025 plans to replace the sunken free­way with a sur­face-lev­el boule­vard. If com­plet­ed, the project would recon­nect east Detroit with down­town, and seek to cor­rect the unjust demo­li­tion of the his­toric Black Bot­tom and Par­adise Val­ley neigh­bor­hoods that dis­placed 130,000 res­i­dents and 300 minor­i­ty owned busi­ness­es in the 1960s.

The orig­i­nal plan of the Recon­nect­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Project was to replace the mile-long I‑375 free­way with a six-lane boule­vard equipped with larg­er side­walks, a 2 way-raised bike path, and reclaim near­ly 30 acres for neigh­bor­hood devel­op­ment. Extend­ing south of the I‑75/I‑375 inter­change to Jef­fer­son Ave, the new boule­vard would open addi­tion­al con­nec­tions to the Detroit River­front, East­ern Mar­ket, Brush Park, and the Dequin­dre Cut. How­ev­er, despite the good inten­tions behind the pro­pos­al, res­i­dents, tran­sit advo­cates, and some city offi­cials voiced oppo­si­tion to the project details. Crit­i­cism of the pro­pos­al focused on the scale of the road and lack of repar­a­tive efforts.

The pro­posed boule­vard would con­tain some of the city’s widest inter­sec­tions if con­struct­ed. The project has earned the nick­name ‘High­way by anoth­er name’, as the 9‑lane inter­sec­tions raised seri­ous con­cerns about pedes­tri­an acces­si­bil­i­ty and bik­er safe­ty. Despite calls to reduce the project to a pedes­tri­an scale, MDOT has stat­ed changes to the project are unlike­ly to mod­i­fy the num­ber of lanes. The 104.6‑million-dollar grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion giv­en to the project in 2022 requires the boule­vard to not adverse­ly affect traf­fic flow with­in the city. There­fore, any redesign pro­pos­al will need to han­dle the his­tor­i­cal capac­i­ty report­ed on I‑375. MDOT has stat­ed the pause is to mod­i­fy their approach by col­lect­ing new traf­fic data and engi­neer­ing analy­sis, but it seems the only hope for a reduc­tion in scale is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of low­er traf­fic vol­ume data due to post-COVID com­mut­ing patterns.

While the project pause is unlike­ly to alter the boule­vard size, it has allowed MDOT and the city of Detroit to engage with com­mu­ni­ty ideas and imple­ment more com­pre­hen­sive restora­tive jus­tice pro­grams. These mod­i­fi­ca­tions aim to build upon the exist­ing repar­a­tive efforts of the project beyond road con­struc­tion. This includes the fur­ther­ing of a land use frame­work cen­tered on com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment and cor­ri­dor aes­thet­ics, rec­og­niz­ing the impact of the his­tor­i­cal injus­tice suf­fered by the peo­ple of Black Bot­tom and Par­adise Val­ley. Addi­tion­al­ly, there is a focus on estab­lish­ing and advanc­ing a Dis­ad­van­taged Busi­ness Enter­prise (DBE) con­cen­trat­ed on local work­force devel­op­ment. This ini­tia­tive intends to cham­pi­on and rely on minor­i­ty-owned Detroit busi­ness­es through­out the pro­jec­t’s con­struc­tion and beyond.

The mod­i­fied approach of the I‑375 Recon­nect­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Project scale and restora­tive jus­tice pro­gram is expect­ed to be revealed and fur­ther dis­cussed in a pub­lic meet­ing some­time in ear­ly 2024.

Discussion Questions

1. How does the pause in the I‑375 Redesign reflect a com­mit­ment to address­ing res­i­dent feed­back and con­cerns, par­tic­u­lar­ly regard­ing the impact on his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties in Detroit?

2. How do poli­cies from fund­ing sources main­tain the sta­tus quo and lim­it restora­tive jus­tice? Addi­tion­al­ly, would the poli­cies or fund­ing source be eas­i­er to change?

3. In addi­tion to the boule­vard con­struc­tion, some res­i­dents are call­ing for repa­ra­tions to the cit­i­zens and fam­i­lies affect­ed by the neighborhood’s destruc­tion (due to lost prop­er­ty val­ue, lost busi­ness prof­its, trau­ma, etc.) To what extent is it the respon­si­bil­i­ty of MDOT and the Fed­er­al High­way Admin­is­tra­tion (FHWA) to bear respon­si­bil­i­ty for their agency’s actions in the 20th century?


Pub­lic State­ments Regard­ing the Project:‑375-reconnecting-communities-project–11/11.14.23%20I-375%20Statement%20Final.pdf

Peer Reviewed Articles:

Shkem­bi, Abas ; Smith, Lau­ren M ; Neitzel, Richard L. “Link­ing Envi­ron­men­tal Injus­tices in Detroit, MI to Insti­tu­tion­al Racial Seg­re­ga­tion through His­tor­i­cal Fed­er­al Redlin­ing.” Jour­nal of Expo­sure Sci­ence & Envi­ron­men­tal Epi­demi­ol­o­gy, Unit­ed States, doi:10.1038/s41370-022–00512‑y.

Cole­man, K. (2023). Michi­gan advance — states news­room: On june­teenth, detroit orga­ni­za­tion advances his­to­ry of leg­endary black bot­tom neigh­bor­hood. Singer Island: New­stex. Retrieved from‑2

Pop­u­lar Media/News References: