Sunday, September 21, 2014

Detour ends

In my usual travels I take I-96 a lot. That includes when heading to downtown Detroit, to the college where I teach, to the Ruth Ellis Center, to Ann Arbor, and to my parent's home. The only direction I don't use it is when I head directly north or directly south.

But since April the 7-mile section in Redford and Livonia has been closed. It badly needed repairs and the state Dept. of Transportation determined it was time to completely rebuild it. They conducted citizen forums where the feedback said to completely close it for one construction season rather than have it partially closed for two. They tore out all the old concrete, improved whatever goes under it, and laid a new roadbed according to construction guidelines that have changed in the 40 years since it was built. In addition, all 35 bridges over the highway were rebuilt. Those were not done all at once, though I had to remember this bridge is closed this month and that bridge will be closed next month.

Since I live a few miles from the middle of the closed section I had to work out alternate routes. To the college or Ann Arbor I took surface streets to the ends of the closed section. To downtown Detroit I took a completely different route. Some of those surface streets were quite busy.

Also since I live close I've frequently ridden my bike along and over the highway to see the progress. In the early days I could cross a bridge in the middle, look both ways (this section is fairly straight), and count a dozen cranes in use. That has tapered off. There was once I watched a huge paving machine pass underneath me.

It is almost done. The DOT has said the highway will open two weeks early, in about nine days. I heard one report that it will open tomorrow, though I suspect it is incorrect – the official website still lists 9 days. The early opening means the construction company gets a bonus.

To celebrate the completed work and to thank residents for putting up with it for 7 months a two-mile section of the highway was opened this afternoon for a family fun day. A college along the highway offered parking and people were invited to come on down to the highway's surface to walk, ride bicycles, use skateboards, or do anything else that was muscle powered (I saw a few scooters for the disabled). There was an official ribbon-cutting at 2:00 (which I skipped) and then two hours to play in the highway.

I rode my bike from home rather than get caught in traffic. Alas, I stopped under a store overhang for a few minutes to avoid a light rain. Most of the festivities were at the west end of the opened area and I was able to enter at the east end. Shortly after I arrived the sun came out and the air warmed up a bit to about 65F.

There were a lot of people there! In this photo I got up on the embankment under a bridge to see the crowd up ahead. I didn't make it all the way to the west end because the crowds were so thick. Even away from there I had to go slowly to avoid running into people.

I rode back and forth a couple times, enjoying the party atmosphere and the diversity of the crowd as well as the diversity of ways they got around. I was on the highway for almost an hour. I took an exit ramp up to street level and that's when I saw and heard an area high school marching band go by. They look to be having fun, even if they aren't in the crisp, straight rows one expects.

About then the rain started up again. I decided it was time to head home. It didn't rain all the way home and it was never strong (that waited until later), so my clothes were damp, but not soggy. I'll have to clean the spattered dirt off the back of my shirt. In spite of the weather it was a great afternoon.

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