Michigan Gov. Whitmer requests federal money to support I-375 overhaul

Whitmer seeks support in replacing Detroit freeway that separated communities

DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is requesting money from the federal government to help support the modernization of I-375 and the I-375/I-75 interchange in Detroit.

Gov. Whitmer on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg requesting assistance with replacing I-375 through the department’s Reconnecting Communities program, which was recently passed as part of President Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure bill. Whitmer says the stretch of freeway in Detroit is 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.

“Right now, we have an historic opportunity to put Michiganders first and utilize the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to connect every community with safe, smooth roads and bridges.

“As we build up our roads and bridges, we also have to take a closer look at the unjust legacy of so many of our freeways, including I-375 and the I-75/ I-375 Interchange, that were built decades ago by demolishing Black neighborhoods, splitting up key economic areas, and decreasing connectivity between families, communities, and small businesses. After the passage of the historic bipartisan infrastructure bill, we can build up local roads and bridges the right way across Michigan, bringing communities together and bridging economic divides by creating thousands of good-paying jobs for Michiganders and ensuring small businesses, downtowns, and neighborhoods have high-quality, reliable infrastructure to rely on as we usher in a new era of prosperity for our state. I look forward to working with the legislature and our federal partners to get the job done.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The stretch of freeway in Downtown Detroit runs through an area called Black Bottom, which once stretched from Lafayette Park to Hastings. When it was built, the I-375 freeway cleaved apart and all but destroyed the vibrant Black community of Black Bottom.

More: Remembering Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood

“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.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced plans to pave over the freeway and turn it into a boulevard, which would make the area more residential- and business-friendly. However, MDOT is still awaiting federal approval to begin the project, which wouldn’t actually start until 2027.

More: The future of the I-375 boulevard project and the history behind it

Earlier this month, Buttigieg -- the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a presidential candidate in 2020 -- said that at least $1 billion from the infrastructure bill would go toward reconnecting U.S. cities and neighborhoods that had been divided by road projects. According to Buttigieg, highway designs can reflect racism.

“I’m still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood ... that obviously reflects racism,” he said.

More on that: Buttigieg’s star rises as $1T Biden agenda shifts toward him

The state of Michigan is already set to receive billions of dollars from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan. Officials say that money will go toward fixing roads, replacing lead water pipes, expanding access to high-speed internet and electric vehicle charging stations. About $7.3 billion of that will be used to fix Michigan roads.

You can read Whitmer’s entire letter to Buttigieg below.

Related: What $1T federal infrastructure law means for Michigan

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.