Converting Detroit's I-375 to a boulevard

Lions, Tigers, and Boulevards

Lions, Tigers and boulevards: each are reasons to be excited about Detroit. Yes even the Lions! As a native Detroiter, I dare not forget to mention the Detroit Red Wings who just hustled their way past the Ducks to begin what will be an intense series with the Blackhawks, but they’ve long been a standard of excellence in a city that’s had more than its fair share of challenges.

The excitement that Detroit sports generate is more about hope for the city than anything. Obviously, the Tigers don’t have too try hard since they are more than capable of getting back to the World Series, but for a city that hasn’t had many reasons to celebrate, the hunger for a championship is mouthwatering.

Even after a Charles Barkley turrible 4-12 season, Lions fans still believe in the prospects for a winning future after pickups like Reggie Bush and 1st rounder Ziggy Ansah. I hear you thinking “yeah, yeah…Ziggy’s only got a few years experience”, but who better to roll the dice with than a 6’5 270lb DE that runs a 4.6 40? My point is that additions like these help, but deep down what Lions fans and citizens of Detroit want to believe is that the culture of losing will end.

Despite financial takeover, optimism for a Detroit turnaround is present now more than ever before. High-profile investments like Dan Gilberts purchase of 15 downtown buildings and Quicken Loans headquarters’ move to downtown are just the beginning. Gilbert himself said that 2013 would focus on Retail, Rail, and Residential. 

For Detroit, one central issue is the role land use plays in the city’s turnaround. With more space than necessary for current population, Detroit has wrestled with moving citizens to higher density areas and subsquently met the ire of the community. Now, the city is considering repurposing its roadways and the surrounding land as a key urban revitalization.

A New Old Idea

Michigan’s Department of Transportation (MDOT)  is officially beginning a public discussion to consider restoring I-375 to an at-grade boulevard. Interstate 375 is almost 50 years old, spanning a little over a mile between Gratiot and Jefferson Avenue.

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle, likes the potential of such a project and said that the idea could open up about 12 acres for development paid for through public-private partnerships. Also, besides removing an eye-sore from the downtown landscape, this project would present an opportunity to connect the Riverfront, Greektown and Eastern Market, and Stadium districts. Sold yet?

Show Me the Money

While the benefits of such a potential project seem great, the reality is that Detroit and the state have budget problems. No one denies that I-375 is falling apart and current estimates for repair are around $80 million. Since I-375 is about 20-feet below grade and no plans in place to raise those areas, there are many unknowns that remain to be factored in to the total cost of this project or how it would be paid for. That being said, the opportunity cost of $80 million serves as the current price ceiling until more details come out.

MDOT is leading a public discussion to determine the future of the I-375 and potential options. While initial costs aren’t clear, most agree the potential benefits outweigh them. Supporters cite the success other cities around the country have had doing something similar such as, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee. The potential entertainment value is huge! More importantly, the beautification and convenience would only add to the allure of living downtown.

New Renaissance 

Detroit is reinventing itself through technology and culture; transforming its roadways and land use patterns fit right in to this trend. As more green spaces for urban farms and gardens emerges and a resurgent art and culinary community develops, citizens need the opportunity to walk, bike, or lounge in the city they love. While boulevards aren’t a new idea in terms of street design, it’s a smart and equitable one for Detroit. Maybe it’s time for the city once built in the likeness of Paris to become a bit more like it.


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