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Seeing is believing on I-94

The master of quick wit Groucho Marx once stated, "Who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?" While that quote could be applicable to a variety of instances or circumstances in everyday life, it seems appropriate for the new freeway alignment on I-94/I-69 in St. Clair County.

In early spring 2011, MDOT started a two-year project to widen and realign a 2-mile section of I-94/I-69 between Lapeer Road and Pine Grove Avenue - the area that approaches the Blue Water Bridge. Included in this $90 million investment was replacing the bridge that carries the freeway over the Black River. At that time, the bridge was rated one of the worst structures in the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Metro Region, with poor marks in numerous structurally deficient categories. The old freeway also suffered from an outdated design that directed local traffic not wanting to cross into Canada to use the left lane of the freeway to access Pine Grove Avenue. The outdated left-lane exit caused unsafe lane changes on the bridge, especially with drivers entering eastbound I-94 from Water Street.

So the stage was set for a major overhaul. Poor pavement condition, structurally deficient bridges and merge/weave problem were addressed when MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration came up with the current design, which features an additional traffic lane on the freeway, three separate bridges over the Black River, and improved local emergency response times by providing full access from I-94 to the Lapeer Connector interchange.

The biggest change occurred on the eastbound side of the freeway where local traffic headed for Port Huron, Fort Gratiot or other local communities would now have their own bridge to cross the Black River. This separate structure eliminated the merge/weave issue by allowing local traffic to exit on the right-hand side of the freeway. The separation of local and international traffic improves mobility while ensuring the Blue Water Bridge remains a viable trade crossing for commerce.

When the project fully opened to traffic in fall 2012, many drivers used to the old configuration seemed confused by the new setup. Additional signs were added and electronic message boards were dispatched in an effort to reach motorists before the decision point on whether to stay in the United States or head into the customs plaza of the Blue Water Bridge.

While numerous signs clearly show which lanes to use, it seems many drivers are still following their GPS navigation systems instead of trusting their eyes. Unfortunately, more than six months later, there is still confusion. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are still encountering 600-800 vehicles per week that inadvertently use the lanes that lead to the Blue Water Bridge. MDOT has contacted GPS companies informing them an update is needed. While these companies have complied, unless the owners of the navigation equipment update their services, it will continue to lead them on the wrong bridge crossing the Black River.

So, MDOT has taken additional steps to ensure that motorists are using the proper lanes by installing new overhead signs like the one below. As a reminder, MDOT also had specialized pavement markings and rumble strips applied to the I-94/I-69 pavement approaching the decision point for either proceeding to the Blue Water Bridge or staying in Michigan.

MDOT remains committed to safety and these extra measures taken were done so to simplify the drive and give motorists ample time to make their decisions. As far as Mr. Marx goes, his statement still rings true today. Follow your eyes, seeing is believing.

Let us know what you think at morosir@michigan.gov 

Rob Morosi
MDOT Metro Region Communications Specialist