Mar 8, 2023 - News

$21.7M for a community connection

Photo illustration of a highway, car traffic, money, suburbia and two Black boys hugging each other.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Heilman/Classicstock, H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock, Charles E. Rotkin/Corbis/VCG, Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

A pedestrian bridge over I-696 that connects Oak Park's Orthodox Jewish community is getting a makeover as part of the federal government's effort to remove highways dividing communities.

Driving the news: Oak Park is receiving a $21.7 million grant to reconstruct a crumbling Victoria Park Plaza Bridge over I-696, a trenched highway that bisects the city's Orthodox Jewish community, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced last week.

Why it matters: MDOT wants to remove and replace the deck in order to maintain the connection for the community, as well as an important pedestrian and bicycle route.

Zoom in: I-696 is in Oak Park and has three large bridges, one of which is failing and will be obsolete by 2025. The three bridges were built for easier travel to synagogues for members of the Orthodox Jewish community who don't drive during the Sabbath.

  • The existing deck leaks water, causing icicles to form, creating safety issues for drivers in the winter.
  • MDOT will construct temporary walkways and other accommodations for pedestrians during construction.

What they're saying: "This bridge will connect an Orthodox Jewish community in Oak Park divided by the freeway, ensuring they can cross safely during Sabbath," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

Zoom out: The Biden administration recently announced the first round of funding under the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, established under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

  • The Transportation Department has awarded $185 million in grants for projects in 45 cities.
  • Demand was high: The agency received 435 applications seeking a total of more than $2 billion.

Meanwhile, design work is expected to continue over the next couple of years to remake Detroit's I-375 from a one-mile downtown highway into a six-lane street-level boulevard, with construction on the $300 million project scheduled to start in 2025.

  • A slower-speed boulevard with connections to neighborhood streets will replace the sunken and outdated highway connecting I-75 with Jefferson Avenue.
  • The project is being funded in part through a separate federal grant.

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