Detroit project suggests I-64 delays might not be so bad
By Tom Weber, KWMU
St. Louis, MO –
| Link: 'Dodge the Lodge' website|
Link: MO-DOT's I-64 project website
Listen: 'Dodge the Lodge' radio ad
Read: 2003 federal report about 'full closure' projects
There will be another closure tonight (Friday) related to the big I-64 project. The ramp from westbound 64 to northbound 170 will close for 10 days, so crews can work on a new onramp.
It gives St. Louisans another chance to rehearse detours for January; that's when an entire stretch of highway closes for a year.
But will the delays next year really be that bad?
It's hard to know because St. Louis hasn't really ever had a project of this magnitude. But Detroit did - this year.
That's why we recently sent KWMU's Tom Weber to the Motor City, he came back with this report.
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A traveler this summer might have thought leaving St. Louis at the peak of summer heat and humidity and heading north meant cooler weather, but that traveler would be mistaken.
At least they had the decency to schedule the Rib and Jazz fest down at the riverfront during my visit - a great idea until you stand right next to the barbeque pit.
That's where I found an extremely sweaty Juel Lewis at the booth for a place called "Good to the Bone," who was trying to keep up with the booth across the way called "King of Ribs." The King had adorned his booth with all the trophies from past BBQ competitions, while Lewis was at only his first Rib Fest.
But When he's not thinking about BBQ trophies, Lewis teaches at a high school, and usually takes a freeway called the Lodge.
"It used to take me 20 minutes to get to work," he said. "Once they closed the Lodge, it took another 20 minutes."
He's not alone. The Lodge (which officially is called the M-10 but which is named for former Detroit mayor John C. Lodge) closed this year for a complete reconstruction.
So, like St. Louisans next year, Detroiters this year had to find other routes.
And there are a lot of similarities:
- The Lodge project is for 14 miles of road and 50 bridges; I-64 in St. Louis is 10 miles and 30 bridges.
- Both cities offer a number of other nearby highways as detours. For Detroit, it was I-75, I-96, I-696, and I-275. For St. Louis, I-44 and I-70 will take most of the load, though I-55 and Forest Park Parkway will also likely be utilized.
-I-64 carries more out-of-town traffic that's just passing through the region but both roads carry about the same number of cars each day (about 140,000)
So how has Detroit fared? The Lodge runs almost directly into Comerica Park, so I took a trip to a Tigers game.
And while it did turn some heads when I said I was at a ballgame to talk about construction, I also found fans there were more upset with the Tigers' play of late than any construction.
Just about all the people who said they were not affected live in the suburbs and really only drive downtown for events like games. But even those who were affected say it's gotten better as Detroit got used to the Lodge being closed.
"The first week we knew was going to be difficult for people," said Rob Morosi, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Transportation. "I think after the first week, or the first two weeks, people seem to stick to the alternate that works best for them, adjust their time appropriately, and the complaints of people being delayed significantly diminished."
Morosi says one key was to not plan any other construction on the alternate routes this summer - a tactic MO-DOT will employ next year. Another key was getting out to media - get on the news, print brochures and run ads.
Out at a small airport in the suburbs, Dennis Neubacher is returning from another story. The red beard and jean shorts kind of stick out when you meet him.
He's been a helicopter TV reporter for 25 years - he works for the ABC affiliate today and has done plenty of traffic reports over the years. He says right before the Lodge closed this year, "everyone pushed the panic button."
But things did calm down.
Dennis is the kind of guy who - no joke - used to drive around during rush hour on his days off to get a sense of traffic so he could be a better traffic reporter from the sky.
Dennis also loves maps which, for him and map nerds like him, made finding other routes easy.
"That's the thing, with some people that's all they know, all they know is that's how to get to work," he said. "So when it happens and you can't do that, they say 'oh, how am I going to get around this?'"
"And unless you're creative and you have some fun with it, you're stuck- you're going to be going wherever everybody else goes."
"If you're asking me if it caused great hardships, the answer's no," added Doug Miller, who lives in the suburb of Southfield. "But did I like it? No."
"I mean, that's a major undertaking, so if you think you're going to close down major arteries and things will be decent, then you're in another world."
The entire stretch of the Lodge has since reopened, though it will still be two months until all the bridges and all finishing touches are done.
Still, drivers in Detroit aren't about to get too complacent. Another full closure is planned on a stretch of another highway next year.