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Paving the way for the Super Bowl

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SPRUCING UP THE CITY: Work will pave way for the Super Bowl

Detroit to start its road-digging in next 2 weeks

April 2, 2004

BY KATHLEEN GRAY

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Construction hell is about to hit downtown Detroit's streets.

The $35-million face-lift will begin in two weeks, leaving most streets ripped up, rerouting buses and complicating the commute for the nearly 75,000 people who live and work in the central business district.

The 18-month project, which will replace water and sewer lines and repave streets, is designed to spruce up the city before it moves into the national spotlight with baseball's All-Star game in summer 2005 and, more important, football's Super Bowl in February 2006.

Nearly every street in the central business district will be affected at some point through November 2005. The city is trying to make sure that only one lane of the affected roads will shut down during phased-in construction.

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But in some cases, roads will be completely closed, like Grand River from Library Street to Woodward, which will shut this spring for total reconstruction.

The water supply to some buildings also will have to be shut off for short intervals at some intersections. But city officials said they want to limit that to weekends.

"Or if it's going to affect a restaurant, then the shutoff would occur at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning," said Al Fields, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Detroit.

The central business district is roughly defined by the Lodge Freeway on the west, I-75 on the north, I-375 on the east and the Detroit River on the south. About 5,700 people live in the area.

The district's once-bustling main drags of Woodward, Broadway and Washington Boulevard are now marked by potholes, shuttered skyscrapers and whirling clouds of dust.

But the massive infrastructure project, while inconvenient, will restore some of the luster. Several streets are earmarked for streetscaping, which will include landscaping, decorative lighting and cosmetic touches.

Others will be resurfaced after the water main replacements are completed. In all, 5 miles of water mains will be replaced.

"Downtown is going to be under a massive rebirth," said Fields. "We're trying to do it all at the same time."

The city acknowledges the construction will be chaotic. Officials are not looking forward to dates like June 23, when more than 1 million people drive to Detroit for the Freedom Festival fireworks, or the inevitable overlap of games played by the Detroit Tigers, Red Wings and Lions.

Add the closing of the Lodge at I-94 and continued construction on I-75 in the city and the drive into Detroit will be an orange barrel nightmare.

"It looks like downtown is going to be gridlock," said City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel. But the project makes sense, she added, because in the past the city used to repave streets and then have to rip them up to repair water main leaks.

Street parking will be limited during construction and deliveries to businesses will be hampered because trucks won't be allowed to stop on streets under construction.

Richard Blouse, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said he's glad the work is being done.

"But I'm a little disappointed that we've known about the Super Bowl for so long and it's taken so long to get to this work," he said. "It's going to be very disruptive."

The chamber is already thinking about moving meetings from its downtown Detroit office at the foot of Woodward at Jefferson to the suburbs to avoid the construction.

Likewise, the Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART, the agencies that provide bus service in Detroit and the suburbs, are beginning to move bus stops and coordinate their schedules to accommodate the estimated 30,000 people who take buses into downtown Detroit every day.

"It's going to be a real challenge for us," said Gerald Poisson, a SMART board member. "We have to keep our riders informed enough so they won't turn away from transit forever."

The city will unveil an education campaign for the Build Detroit project in coming weeks to try to keep drivers informed of the work as it progresses. The state and business community also will be involved.

"We looked at a lot of different cities, including Salt Lake City when they hosted the Olympics," said Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the city. "One of the themes is 'Know before you go.' "

Much of the construction this year will occur in the northern part of the central business district to make sure that the roads around Ford Field and Comerica Park are completed in time for the All-Star Game next summer. Water main and resurfacing work along Woodward also is scheduled to be finished this year in time for the Thanksgiving Day parade.

The projects, which will be noticeable beginning April 12, are being paid for by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the Department of Public Works and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Contact KATHLEEN GRAY at 248-351-3298 or [email protected]ress.com.

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