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MDOT awarded grant to replace vital community pedestrian bridge over I-696

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will receive a $21.7 million award under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The grant will provide funding to rebuild the Victoria Park Plaza Bridge along Church Street over I-696, which connects an Orthodox Jewish community in Oak Park that is divided by the freeway.

“Rebuilding the Victoria Park Plaza Bridge over I-696 will connect communities and support good-paying construction jobs,” said Governor Whitmer. “We are the fixing the damn roads and bridges across Michigan without raising taxes by a dime, and I am grateful to the Michigan Infrastructure Office and the Michigan Department of Transportation for their collaboration to win federal grants that will make a real difference in people’s lives. This bridge will connect an Orthodox Jewish community in Oak Park divided by the freeway, ensuring they can cross safely during Sabbath."

Beneficial to both motorists and pedestrians, replacing the bridge will address problems with water leaks on I-696 below and other issues over the years. In the winter, the leaks cause large sharp icicles to form and dangle over motorists on the freeway, which could lead to serious injury if the ice flies through a driver’s windshield. MDOT monitors the icicle formation during colder months, spending $300,000 annually on maintenance to safely remove the icicles.

The nearby communities of Oak Park, Bloomfield, Southfield, and Huntington Woods are among the communities with the highest number of Jewish households living in Detroit region. Among these, Oak Park is one of the oldest communities and is arguably at the heart of Detroit’s suburban Jewish community with a high concentration of religious, educational, and retail facilities. Sustained by close-knit, Orthodox Jewish families, the community benefits from access to centrally located places of worship, religious schools, kosher shopping facilities, restaurants, butcher shops, bakeries, bookstores, and other venues. For many in the community, these institutions and specialized retail venues are located across I-696 from where they reside. Religious law prevents work and driving on the Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday until nightfall Saturday, and on Jewish holy days. During these times, most transportation is by foot to one or more synagogues, community events, and homes.

“The Michigan Infrastructure Office is proud to have supported the bridge reconstruction project in Oak Park that ensures the community remains connected to their centers of worship, community, and education, said Zach Kolodin, Michigan’s chief infrastructure officer and director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office. “With travel on Sabbath being done exclusively on foot, Victoria Park Plaza bridge over I-696 is especially important to the community’s thriving Orthodox Jewish population.”

MDOT estimates construction on the new Victoria Park Plaza Bridge will begin in early 2025, with a total cost for the project projected for $43 million.  

Established by President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Reconnecting Communities Program provides technical assistance and funding for communities’ planning and construction projects that aim to reconnect neighborhoods by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating transportation barriers, such as highways and railroad tracks. The USDOT is funding transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks, filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined Complete Streets, and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels, and trails.

Project area’s location on I-696 in Oak Park.

Image: Project area’s location on I-696 in Oak Park.

Plaza bridge proposed pedestrian detour map.

Image: Plaza bridge proposed pedestrian detour map.

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