US-12 (Michigan) / I-94

mdot historic bridges wayne county US-12 (Michigan) / I-94

County:  Wayne

City/Township:  Dearborn

Location:  US-12 (Michigan) / I-94

Year Built:  1948

About this Bridge:
The Detroit Industrial Expressway and the Edsel Ford Expressway became models for freeway design throughout the country, helping to stimulate the construction of the modern interstate system. The U.S. Highway 12 Bridges qualify for the National Register as representative examples of the structures designed for these innovative highways. The bridges are also eligible under for their engineering significance. Standing where the two expressways merge, the bridges represent the successful solution to an intersection that was challenging to design and construct.

The potential of a crosstown thoroughfare following Harper and McGraw avenues was recognized by the 1920s, when Detroit helped prepare a regional road system master plan. The cost of upgrading this route to a consistent 120-foot width was estimated at $3.852 million. The same route was highlighted by a 1936 study, part of a nationwide traffic planning survey initiated by the federal Public Roads Administration. Participants of the Detroit study, including the city of Detroit, the Wayne County Road Commission, the Huron-Clinton Parkway Commission, and the state highway department, hoped to begin construction of the crosstown road soon, but the onset of World War II delayed plans. The war, however, catalyzed construction of the freeway to the west, the Detroit Industrial Expressway (DIE), which served the Willow Run bomber plant at Ypsilanti.

Planning for the Harper-McGraw route continued during the early 1940s, as the state and country anticipated post-war projects. In February 1941, the state highway department presented a preliminary report on the route to government officials in Detroit and Wayne County. Conducting surveys, acquiring right-of-way, negotiating with utility companies to relocate lines, and other pre-construction work took a considerable amount of time and expense, given the crosstown road's densely developed environs. One highway official claimed that the route "traverses a more or less blighted area"[Coons], underscoring the fact that early interstate development was seen as an urban redevelopment tool in addition to a transportation improvement. The Detroit route was originally known as the "Crosstown." The Detroit City Council approved a petition to christen it the "Edsel Ford Expressway" in April 1946.

By September 1946, final plans were drawn for a Pere Marquette Railroad overpass to the north of the DIE/Ford intersection. The state highway department had completed surveys for 13 of the Ford's vehicular bridges and prepared preliminary plans for an additional four. The 14-mile expressway would ultimately require 70 structures, not including pedestrian overpasses. The initial section extended east from the terminus of the DIE at Wyoming and Michigan avenues, at the Dearborn/Detroit border, to John R Street near downtown Detroit. Plans included an interchange with the north-south John C. Lodge Expressway, which Wayne County was developing concurrently.

Because the Ford Expressway was part of the federal system, half the cost was paid by the federal government, thanks to the Federal Aid Law of 1944 permitting states to dedicate federal highway funds to urban freeway construction. Responsibility for providing the remaining funds was split equally between the state and Wayne County. The first federal aid became available in October 1945, and was put towards acquisition of right-of-way. Initially, construction was completed on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. This led to frequent delays, which caused planners to explore other means of financing. In 1951, a controversial revenue bond sale generated $80 million to speed work on the Lodge and Ford expressways. The state, county and city dedicated income from gasoline and weight taxes to retire the bonds over a 25-year period.

Representatives from the federal Bureau of Roads, the state highway commission, the Wayne County Road Commission, and the city of Detroit formed an "Expressway Engineering Committee" to coordinate the myriad details required associated with the expressway's planning and construction. The state highway department alone, however, was responsible for completing the intersection between the Ford, the DIE, and Michigan Avenue (US-12), which was located in Dearborn and hence not included in the tri-partite agreement between the state, county and city.

A brochure issued by the state highway department in 1954 articulated the benefits of the new roads: "The Edsel Ford and John C. Lodge expressways will relieve greatly the present serious traffic congestion problem in the metropolitan area . . . [thus] reducing travel time and eliminating inconvenience and discomfort that go with driving on heavily congested streets. Because of the limited access features and elimination of cross traffic, it will be possible to drive safely on the expressways at speeds much greater than is possible on main traffic thoroughfares. . . . The expressways will add to the beauty of the city, will speed workers from homes to factories and return, and shoppers to and from the downtown area over the safest type of highway designed today." The brochure also notes: "No greater public program was ever undertaken in Michigan on a cooperative basis between units of government than the John C. Lodge and Edsel Ford expressway system."

Work began on the west end of the Ford and moved east, focusing first on the DIE/Ford/Michigan Avenue (US-12) interchange. The state highway department, which was responsible for preparing the plans, received assistance in the design of the US-12 Bridge from Hazelet and Erdal, consulting engineers from Chicago. When the highway department opened bids for the project's general contractor on 15 July 1948, Peter Darin and John Armstrong, principals of the Detroit construction firm Darin and Armstrong, won the award with the low bid of approximately $925,000. Construction began 4 August. Some 95,000 cubic yards of clay had to be excavated from the site. Progress was delayed in October by a ruptured high-pressure water main, and the structures were not finished until the following August. Other contractors involved in the project included Charles J. Rogers of Detroit (excavation) and the Great Lakes Steel Company.

State Highway Commissioner Charles Ziegler cut the ribbon at a well-attended opening ceremony on 17 August 1949. This event marked the completion of a major interchange linking two of the country's earliest limited-access freeways, the Detroit Industrial Expressway and the Edsel Ford Expressway. The combined route appropriated for Interstate 94 when the interstate system was established in the 1950s, illustrates how highways moved from serving wartime needs to fueling post-war prosperity.