DETROIT – A plan to turn a Detroit highway that was built through a historic Black neighborhood in the 1960s into a boulevard is one step closer to reality.
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Michigan $104.6 million to dismantle the 1-mile interstate, part of $1.5 billion in grants awarded by the department nationwide. The program, Reconnecting Communities, was part of the bipartisan infrastructure package passed earlier this year.
The funding will enable Michigan to move forward with its $270 million plan to turn the highway into a street-level boulevard, reconnecting historic neighborhoods. After years of planning dating back to 2013, the highway removal is now estimated to begin as soon as 2025, two years earlier than expected, with construction finished by 2028.
The project includes removing 15 old bridges, adding LED lighting, building wider sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, and more.
“This stretch of I-375 cuts like a gash through the neighborhood, one of many examples I have seen in communities across the country where a piece of infrastructure has become a barrier,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The Associated Press. “With these funds, we’re now partnering with the state and the community to transform it into a road that will connect rather than divide,” Buttigieg said.
Michigan Gov. Whitmer requested the federal funding last year. In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Whitmer said the stretch of freeway in Detroit was a “perfect candidate” for the program, given that the road leveled and dislocated several communities of color when it was constructed in the early 1960s.
Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, two of the city’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, were razed as part of the 1950s creation of an interstate highway system, displacing 100,000 Black residents and erecting a decades-long barrier between the downtown and communities to the east.
“I-375 was built due to the 1956 Federal Interstate Highway Act. Many of these interstate highways would destroy, disrupt and wipe out African American business districts and African American residential communities,” said historian Jamon Jordan.