You aren’t imagining it. There is more road construction on local roadways this summer. Over the next few years, an even busier summer construction season will become the norm.

A few of our aging freeways and roads are being completely dug up and replaced. These projects are being paid for with federal funding from the infrastructure bill and state gas tax money. The state has to move quickly to spend the funds, said Diana Cross, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). If the state doesn’t use the money within a five-year grant cycle, it’ll lose it, even if construction isn’t finished.

Cross said the state is working on the most damaged roadways first; I-275 from Huron Charter Township through Plymouth; I-696 throughout Farmington Hills, Southfield and Royal Oak; I-96 between Novi and Wixom; and I-75 in Hamtramck. These roads will be broken up and resurfaced with new concrete.

Parts of I-94 are in bad shape too but the area between Wayne Road and Middlebelt Road won’t get fixed until at least spring of 2025, getting some maintenance along the way. 

The reconstructed freeways should stay in good shape for at least 20 years, according to Cross, with only minor maintenance lasting a few days.

The state handles freeways, but the Wayne County Road Division is responsible for the condition of most major roads in Detroit, while the Detroit Department of Public Works maintains residential streets in the city.

This summer, Wayne County spokesperson Tiffani Jackson says repairs on roads inside Detroit include the resurfacing of West McNichols Road from Telegraph to Lahser roads; West Outer Drive from West Warren Avenue to Joy Road (1.31 miles); and Moross Road from I-94 to Mack Avenue (1.025 miles). Several other areas will get maintenance, including Chandler Park Drive and East Outer Drive.

The uptick in recent construction aligns with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2018 campaign promise to rebuild Michigan’s roads and bridges. Whitmer takes credit for fixing more than 16,000 lane miles of road and 1,200 bridges during her first term.

Whitmer faced criticism before her re-election last November for slow progress on her campaign promise. The Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council found that 33% of state roads and 45% of local roads were in “poor” condition in 2022. Twelve percent of Michigan’s bridges are in “poor” or “severe” condition.

Michigan is trying to make up for lost time. Due to previous lack of funding, Cross said MDOT would put “Band-Aids” on project areas that have needed rebuilding for years. 

How are all these road repairs being funded? 

Whitmer’s Rebuilding Michigan Program, approved in January 2020, allocated $3.5 billion in bonds to finance new and modified state highways and bridges. 

Cross said funding is also coming from the 2015 Michigan gas tax increase signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder. That increase went into effect in January and raised Michigan’s gas tax from 27.2 cents/gallon to 28.6 cents/gallon. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that Michigan has the sixth-highest gas tax in the country as of January.

The 2015 increase drew support from all the state’s Republicans at the time, while state Democrats criticized the higher taxes and the five-year delay it took for the funds to generate. 

“If you’ve driven I-696 in Oakland County, we’ve been patching that for years — years just doing patches, and (that) area started to crumble,” Cross said. “The same thing with the I-96 Flex Route from I-275 towards Kent Lake — that road has been crumbling for years.”

Snyder’s tax increase also bumped up vehicle registration fees by 20%, a move that has generated $200 million since 2015. Approximately one-third of this money goes to MDOT for interstate freeways; while two-thirds go to counties, cities and villages for local roads. 

Detroit drivers sit in traffic caused by construction for an average of 23 hours a year, according to a 2022 study by INRIX, a traffic analytics firm.

Some drivers refuse to be patient. A 2022 preliminary MDOT report showed that Michigan had 4,393 work zone crashes and 13 of those were fatal. Speeding is a leading cause of fatal work zone crashes.

“(The construction) is extremely frustrating for all of us,” Cross said. “Workers, construction workers, contractors—we all drive the same roads.”

Increasing safety while fixing the roads

In 2019, state lawmakers passed a “move over law” requiring motorists to slow down and shift a lane over for stationary vehicles with flashing, rotating or oscillating lights. Drivers are required to slow down to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit while passing these vehicles if they can’t move over.

“You’ve got to drive slower,” Cross said. “You’ve got to pay attention, and you’ve got to plan longer. It is frustrating, but in a couple of years, the majority of our Detroit-area freeways are going to be construction free.” 

The new distracted driving law, which took effect June 30, is also aimed at increasing safety on local roads. That rule forbids drivers from holding or supporting a phone with any part of their hands, arms or shoulders, and devices cannot be operated beyond a single touch when mounted.

Another piece of legislation making its way through the state Legislature would allow MDOT and the Michigan State Police to use cameras in work zones to capture images of and ticket speeding cars. That bill is awaiting state Senate approval.

Current construction projects around the state can be viewed in real time here. For a list of who to contact to report unsafe road conditions or request street repairs, visit the city’s street maintenance website

The Wayne County Public Service Committee, responsible for matters involving the county’s roads and bridges, meets every other Tuesday in the Guardian Building, 500 Griswold in Detroit, or on Zoom. Links and agendas can be found here.

SaMya (she/her) believes in empowering and encouraging minority voices through local journalism because journalism is a service to the community, not vice versa. She loves Campus Martius, especially during holiday time with the bright lights and snow.