Black Bottom and Paradise Valley residents in Detroit were, for the most part, disregarded when their homes and exclusively Black businesses were demolished in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s. That’s when Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were replaced by what is now called Lafayette Park, Ford Field and the I-375 highway.
Decades later with an I-375 Improvement Project in the works to update the mile–long freeway that connects the I-75 directly to Jefferson Avenue, the officials behind the project are ensuring that they are meeting with Black community stakeholders to help right a few wrongs of the past.
Through the I-375 Improvement Project, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to replace outdated freeways and deteriorating roadways and structures while improving safety and connectivity and supporting economic development and placemaking opportunities, according to its website, https://www.michigan.gov/.
The updates include changes to the existing I-375 freeway, I-75/I-375 Interchange, Gratiot Avenue Connector and service drives.
In replacement of the current I-375, a six-lane boulevard would be constructed at the present city street level from I-75 to Jefferson Avenue, and move to a four-lane boulevard from Jefferson Avenue to Atwater Street. The existing I-75/I-375 Interchange would be rebuilt with a smaller footprint and enhanced connectivity.
As part of the project, recently, MDOT finalized the Environmental Assessment (EA). MDOT will also hold both an in-person public hearing on January 28 and a virtual outreach event on January 27. Attendees can choose to comment in-person at the hearing, during the virtual outreach event, email, online comment form, or by U.S. mail.
MDOT Spokesperson Rob Morosi told the Michigan Chronicle that MDOT anticipates that the EA will be approved by the Federal Highway Administration this year. This will allow for the transformation from a below street-level freeway to an at-grade boulevard to begin in earnest with design activities.
The question that stands out throughout this project is “How will the project memorialize Black Bottom and Paradise Valley?”
The answer includes that during the design phase, the project team will find opportunities and connect with stakeholders and the public on how to recognize the historical significance and contributions of the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley communities which were displaced in conjunction with the original I-375 construction.
Morosi told the Michigan Chronicle that MDOT recognizes the “need” to pay tribute to the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods and will further engage the City of Detroit and the public during the design phase of the project.
“One of the unique aspects of the project is the potential excess property near downtown, which totals approximately 31 acres,” he said.
“The land use and disposition of the potential excess property is going to be further studied by MDOT and the city early in design. This will include public participation to develop the future land uses, zoning and how to leverage opportunities to pay tribute to the Black Bottom community.”
He added that these are “connected conversations” in the development of an appropriate and sustainable tribute.
“The city has been a partner on the project and will continue to be heavily involved as we work these opportunities,” Morosi said.
To comment on the project by email contact MDOT-I-375Corridor@michigan.gov or submit a comment by mail to: Attn: Monica Monsma, Michigan Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909.
All comments received by February 19, 2021, will be included in the official record.