'The beginning of the end of I-375;' $100M federal grant moves highway project up 2 years

In the eyes of Michigan's transportation director, Thursday's announcement that the state had won a $100 million grant to help convert a highway that runs straight through the city of Detroit could only mean one thing:

"To me, this event marks the beginning of the end of the I-375 freeway as we know it," said Dir. Paul Ajegba.

From the project's infancy in 2014 when discussions first began over what to do with the mile-long stretch of road to Sept. 15, it's been mainly planning what a conversion of a main artery into the middle of downtown Detroit would look like.

But with Transportation Department's announcement, local and state officials believe rebuilding of I-375 into a boulevard akin to Woodward Avenue can start two years sooner. 

"We know the history. Detroit has been divided by this highway for nearly 70 years," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "The motivations in wiping out Paradise Valley and Black Bottom in the 50s are well-known, but no one could imagine the pain would still last 70 years later."

The Department of Transportation will be funneling $104,657,051 from the massive infrastructure bill that was passed last year to rip out I-375, which is about a mile long and transports drivers into the heart of Detroit.

When it was built, it also paved over Detroit's Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods, displacing thousands of residents and destroying a thriving area of business and community. 

It's not quite clear what will take its place when construction is expected to begin in 2025. Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who leads the transportation department, said the project is one of many the federal government is embarking upon as it seeks out other roadways that tore through minority communities. 

"The very fact we have the phrase ‘wrong side of the tracks’ in our expressions tells you about this history," he said.

The design plans for the interstate will be worked on and finalized possibly by next year. 

MORE: Read the history of how a highway displaced thousands of Detroiters

To rebuild I-375 as a boulevard, MDOT would realign the traffic ramps near the freeway and merging areas, install traffic "calming measures", take out bridges and stormwater pump stations, and implement new pedestrian crossings and sidewalks.

The pavement that takes its place will be permeable, Buttigieg said, which will help reduce the amount of stormwater that collects on the surface and mitigate flooding.