Warren — Brenton Thornton is preparing for a nightmare commute when a major stretch of Interstate 696 in Macomb County shuts down for a $90 million overhaul next year.
The Michigan Department of Transportation says the work on roughly 10 miles of westbound I-696 — from Interstate 75 to Interstate 94 — will begin in the spring and likely last through the end of the year so that concrete can be replaced.
“I know the construction is much needed because that section of the interstate needs to be resurfaced,” said Thornton of Detroit while pumping gas at Dequindre and 11 Mile on Thursday. “... I know a lot of people will be planning their detour, so I’m going to try to plan around their detours.”
The freeway carries an estimated 150,000 vehicles daily, half heading westbound, according to state transportation officials.
“That volume will be detoured to another freeway built to handle that traffic, MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said in an email. “As long as the vehicle is legal, drivers can use any road they choose, but MDOT strongly suggests drivers use the detour.”
While crews replace the concrete on the interstate, the eastbound side is slated to remain open from I-75 to I-94, according to MDOT.
To cope with the westbound closure, the department suggests drivers take westbound I-94 to northbound I-75 to westbound I-696. I-94 traffic links to westbound I-696 via I-75.
The start and end dates for the project are expected to be determined by the construction company that wins the bid for the work, Cross said.
Meanwhile, the bridges over I-696 “are in good to fair condition due to investment on rehabilitation and maintenance-type work over the years, and will receive additional maintenance work,” according to MDOT.
The timeline for the overhaul was moved up after federal funds became available, Cross said.
“The road is in bad shape. … It would be foolish to waste this kind of money that we might not get again. It’s federal money that will fix one of the biggest and busiest freeways in the state.”
MDOT has scheduled a public meeting Oct. 24 at Warren City Hall to offer details on the $90 million project.
At that public meeting, drivers have a chance to meet the construction team as well as learn more about the schedule, types of work and detours. The aim is preparation, Cross said.
“It is going to be a very tough situation,” she said.
Businesses in the area near I-696 expect to feel the pain.
Shady Hamid owns the Shell gas station on the corner of Dequindre and 11 Mile in Warren.
“I’m sure it will affect my business, but I’m not just looking at this as a businessman, but as a human being who still has to drive everywhere,” he said.
Hamid said he’s thinking of his family members whose lives will be affected by the closures and detours.
Hamid said he’s owned the gas station for five years and never experienced a construction project of this magnitude.
“It’s good to have construction, but I’m not sure how it’s going to impact my business,” he said.
But businessman Bashar Tomika does not doubt the impact as he expects to lose 30 percent to 40 percent of his business.
“It’s going to slow down my business, and that’s going to hurt me,” said Tomika, who owns a Dollar Store in a plaza on Dequindre near 11 Mile in Warren.
Sue Lee, owner of a beauty supply shop a few steps away from Tomika’s store, was initially rendered speechless when she learned of the construction plans.
“I’m very worried,” Lee said. “I just don’t know how it will affect my business.”
Motorist Dorris Farrow of Detroit wondered why construction was necessary for that stretch.
“They don’t have to do it right now, because there are other streets that need work,” she said while shopping in Discount Bible Books and Music on Dequindre in Warren. “It seems like it’s just wasting money. Now it’s going to take a longer time, and more gas to get around in this area.”
But Kathy Darcie, owner of the Bible bookstore, tried to put a positive spin on the construction.
“I just say it’s always nice when it’s done,” she said. “Yes, it will be an inconvenience, but what can you do?”