I-94 WB / I-94 Ramp From M-10

mdot historic bridges wayne county I-94 WB / I-94 Ramp From M-10

County:  Wayne

City/Township:  Detroit

Location:  I-94 WB / I-94 Ramp From M-10

Year Built:  1955

About this Bridge:
This bridge is part of the interchange between I-94 (Edsel Ford Expressway) and M-10 (John C. Lodge Expressway). The skewed, three-span, steel-girder structure carries westbound vehicles on I-94 over a ramp connecting southbound traffic on M-10 with eastbound I-94. Solid concrete barricades replaced the standard state highway department metal railings and posts that once edged the road’s three lanes. Original stepped concrete parapets at the railing ends survive.

A tripartite agreements between Detroit, the Wayne County Road Commission, and the Michigan State Highway Department for construction of two major controlled-access highways in Detroit was reached in September 1944. The east-west route was an extension of the Detroit Industrial Expressway, which had been initiated during World War II as a link to the Willow Run Bomber Plant. Originally known as the Harper-McGraw crosstown route, it was later named in honor of Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only son and his successor as president of the Ford Motor Company. Edsel died in 1943 at the age of fifty. The north-south route was christened the John C. Lodge Expressway. Lodge’s long political career included service as a member of Detroit’s Common Council and the state legislature, as well as mayor of Detroit.

Acquisition of right-of-way for the expressways was begun by October 1945, and engineers worked to draft plans for the project for the next two years. Construction proceeded slowly at first, funded on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. Another tri-partite agreement in 1951 resulted in the issuance of $80 million in 25-year revenue bonds, backed by gas and weight taxes, which significantly accelerated progress on the project.

One of the major challenges confronting engineers was the intersection between the two freeways. Designers for the state highway department and county road commission apparently tackled this first, even before the agreement to proceed with construction was signed. By the 1940s, cloverleaf intersections had become a standard means of linking cross traffic at grade separations. The tight turns required by a typical cloverleaf arrangement, however, were considered inefficient and unsafe, and they required a large right-of-way. To handle the tremendous traffic volume that was anticipated at the Ford-Lodge interchange, engineers sought a design with simple turns that could be performed at relatively high speeds. In July 1944, the Detroit News announced: “Crossover to Link 2 Superhighways.” The article explained that the connection would be “a rotary-type crossover in which no two conflicting lines of traffic cross each other.” According to Julian C. Mead, county engineer in charge of structural design, this arrangement had never been used before in the Midwest, although it was quite popular in New Jersey and had recently been adopted for an expressway near Washington, D.C. A timely visit from New Jersey highway department engineers, however, resulted in a change of design. The engineers warned that rotaries were unable to handle traffic volume greater than about 3,000 vehicles and hour. Since the Detroit interchange was expected to handle a higher volume, an alternative to the rotary was sought.

Engineers eventually settled on the present layout, “a direct connection type of interchange providing for direct turning movements in all directions,” according to the state highway department’s 1951-1952 biennial report. The report noted that “the design of this interchange was developed by the Department’s design engineers and has created much interest in highway and traffic engineering circles.” The department prepared a model of the interchange which, at a scale of 40 feet to an inch, covered six square feet. In March 1952, the model was shipped to New York City and put on display in the lobby of the Hotel Statler during a three-day “Conference of the Future.” Conference organizers wanted to exhibit the model because, “in the opinion of nationally known engineers, it depicts the most outstanding design for a highway interchange in the country.”

The first contracts for the Lodge-Ford intersection were let in January 1950. By that time, crews had removed more than half of the 498 buildings on the eight city blocks to be consumed by the junction. Right-of -way costs were estimated at $6.8 million. Bids for erecting 13 of the intersection’s 14 bridges were opened in Lansing in November 1950. The low bidder came in above the engineers’ estimates because of recent steel price hikes: demand was greater than supply, as the defense industry geared up for the impending Korean War. It was difficult to obtain steel at any price, with steel mills taking seven or eight months to make a delivery, instead of the typical five-month wait. Contractors anticipated that steel delays would extend construction beyond mid-December 1951, the completion date desired by the state.

The cover of a May 1951 issue of Michigan Roads and Construction featured photographs of abutment and pier construction by contractor L.A. Davison (Lansing) of two of the intersection bridges. By 1952, six of the 14 bridges in the interchange were under construction, with completion of the entire project anticipated by 1954. Progress was catalyzed by additional funds provided by bond financing. By the end of 1952, bridge for north- and southbound traffic on the Lodge Expressway were in service, and links to the Ford Expressway were under construction on the western side of the intersection. Contracts for work on the east side were let in 1953.

On 18 January 1955, the Lodge and Ford were linked for the first time with the opening of three rams on the south end of the interchange, connecting the southbound Lodge to the westbound Ford, the northbound Lodge to the westbound Ford, and the eastbound Ford to the southbound Lodge. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were attended by Detroit Mayor Cobo, Wayne County Road Commission Manager Leroy Smith, and State Highway Commissioner Charles Ziegler. A story in the Detroit Free Press remarked upon the fact that the interchange did not have a “conventional cloverleaf design,” but was instead a unique arrangement that “provides facilities for both right and left turning traffic.” Another article, entitled “Hidden City Comes Into View as Expressways are Joined,” observed that “soaring steel work give [a] new look,” adding: “So far there has been little formal decoration along the expressway. Not much is needed. The graceful curves of the freeway are enough.” Another writer, Frank B. Woodward, waxed even more poetic about the aesthetic merits of the bridges along the freeway, describing the “salmon pink steel bridge work blooming like a maiden’s blush in the May sunshine.”

Drivers waited impatiently for the opening ceremony to have a first look at the new route. The Detroit News reported that when the barriers were moved aside, “cars from downtown roared under the bridges of the $15,300,000 crossing in such numbers that by 5 p.m. a haze of new concrete dust hung like fog in the air.” Most Motor City motorists apparently adapted to the system quickly and enthusiastically: “Drivers...dipped into the new interchange underpass thay had never seen at a cautious 50. By the time (five seconds or so) it took to hit the straightaway, they were back at a minimum 60 and honking impatiently at the few timid souls who lagged.” The first traffic jam was recorded the next morning, with commuters “wandering all over the expressways, not knowing how to anticipate their next move.”

In October 1955, a formal ceremony marked the opening of the entire 14-bridge intersection along with two miles of the Lodge Expressway extending to the north. State Highway Commissioner Charles Ziegler performed the ribbon cutting, followed by a speech by Charles D. Curtiss, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. Curtiss, a Michigan native who had once worked for the state highway department, remarked: “It is fitting that this dynamic city, which has had such an influence on motor transport, should have this expressway system.” Wayne County Engineer Leroy C. Smith added that “the only reason for a dedication is to look ahead – this system is a model for what is to come in Wayne County and in Michigan.”

The bridges in this intersection have experience a number of alteration, such as railing replacements. These are not enough, however, to diminish the importance of the project as an engineering accomplishment, and as a model for the state and nation. Although the construction project included fourteen structures, only the eight bridges that form the core of the intersection and an adjacent pedestrian bridge are included in this nomination: M-10 SB over the I-94 Ramp, I-94 EB over the M-10 ramp to I-94, M-10 SB over I-94, I-94 EB Ramp to M-10 over M-10 SB and I-94 WB, I-94 WB Ramp to M-10 over M-10 NB and I-94 EB, M-10 NB over I-94, I-94 WB over I-94 Ramp from M-10, M-10 NB over I-94 Ramp from M-10, and the Holden Avenue Walkover over M-10.