U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and a litany of other elected officials Thursday to announce a $105 million federal grant to undo the I-375 freeway.
It was a unique situation for a Governor that staked her first election on “fix the damn roads.” In the case of I-375, the fix is to remove the freeway entirely, replacing it with a surface street that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said would remove a partition from the city’s downtown.
“This is a day the Detroit community has been waiting for for a long time,” Detroit mayor Mike Duggan said of I-375. “I’ve been advocating for six years to fill in this ditch and knit the city back together.”
There’s a lot of historical pain in the freeway for Black Detroiters. It and neighboring Lafayette Park were created through so-called “urban renewal” projects that involved razing the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods, housing and cultural centers for the city’s Black residents, respectively. They were evicted and consigned to housing projects where poor socioeconomic conditions persisted for decades.
The use of interstate routing to segregate cities throughout the U.S. and displace minority communities has been heavily documented by historians.
“We cannot change the past. But what we can do is work together to build a more equitable future,” Whitmer said at the press conference. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing today. That’s what this is really all about.”
The funding was provided to the Michigan Department of Transportation as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America competitive grant program. It was one of 26 projects to receive funding Thursday. Buttigieg praised the level of community input incorporated into each stage of the project’s planning.
“Our hope is that this will be a model that other communities look to in terms of how to get this right and who could benefit the most,” Buttigieg said.
Duggan said the additional federal funding could move the start date for the project from 2027 up to 2025. The details of what will replace the freeway hasn’t been finalized, but Whitmer said there would be “a mile of economic opportunity with accessible space for small business storefronts, affordable housing and so much more.”
For Whitmer, the morning announcement in Detroit was a chance to seize on her infrastructure emphasis, which remains a cornerstone of her policy agenda.
She noted that road repairs have been ongoing throughout the state, “and we didn’t raise taxes by a dime” — though the Republican-led legislature, reluctant to raise revenue for road funding through taxes, refused her proposal to pay the way with a 45-cent gas tax increase in 2019. Instead Whitmer has funded the construction largely through a plan to bond $3.5 billion without the legislature’s approval. It will cost the state billions in interest to be paid down the road.