After at least 20 years of discussion and planning, funding has been secured to build a safe pedestrian crossing over I-94 at Huron Street in Ypsilanti by the end of 2022.
The project will establish a paved, shared-use, non-motorized pathway, including physical barriers separating cars from pedestrians and cyclists, along a heavily traveled intersection where pedestrians have currently worn their own paths along the side of the road.A planning map for the pathway project.
Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Richardson, who lives near the intersection on the Southside of Ypsilanti, says the move is "long overdue," noting that officials had been discussing such a project since before she joined Ypsilanti City Council.
Richardson remembers seeing her friends and acquaintances trying to navigate the crossing on foot and feeling afraid for them.
"I would always shudder, because the cars go so fast there, and there is no protection between the walkway and the cars," she says. Qunitez Tomlin uses the Huron Street median to cross I-94.
Bonnie Wessler, project manager for Ypsilanti's Department of Public Services, says she doesn't have any official documentation of pedestrians or cyclists being hit in the area. But it's known as a dangerous intersection for those who want to cross from the city of Ypsilanti to Ypsilanti Township or vice versa to jobs, shopping, the library, or the post office.
"Anecdotally, I know there are a lot of near misses, and near misses don't get reported," Wessler says. "We would like to enable people to cross that bridge without taking their lives into their hands."
One reason the project has been so long in the making is that it required approval from multiple entities: the city of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and the Michigan Department of Transportation. DTE Energy, a recent addition to the partnership, will install lighting along the pathway.
Richardson says getting all parties to the table wasn't the only problem, though, noting that funding for the project was also a sticking point. She also says that, while there was general agreement that the crossing had to be made safer, "we couldn't always agree on what was wanted or how to do it."
Peter Sanderson, park planner with the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (WCPRC), notes that there are "a lot of paths of desire" worn into the grass from people walking and biking through that space, so he thinks a formal path will get a lot of use.
"It's a complex project that's going to involve reconfiguring the highway entrance ramps, building a pathway across that space, and tying it into the city of Ypsilanti's non-motorized pathway to the north and the township's to the south," Sanderson says.
The end of the sidewalk on Huron Street before the westbound I-94 onramp.
However, all parties are now in agreement about the plan and several grants have been secured to make it a reality. WCPRC gave the city $60,000 for engineering, which will be matched by Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and other state funds. WCPRC also gave the township $150,000 for construction. Additionally, a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was recently secured for the project.
Michael Hoffmeister, residential services director for Ypsilanti Township, says it's "exciting" that the project will kick off this year. He says the project also contributes to the township's goal of connecting a series of hike-bike trails in the township and the city into "one connective trail."
He notes that the project will also provide benefits to those who use public transportation.
"There's also a bus stop along that route, but there's no [pedestrian path] connectivity to the bus stop," Hoffmeister notes. "This will create a connection there for people who want to go to the grocery stores and restaurants."
He says the project will also provide a safe path for anyone staying at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti Eagle Crest hotel, in the township near I-94, who wants to visit nearby shops and restaurants on foot. It will also create a path to a YMCA development planned in Ypsilanti Township in the coming years.
A footpath in the median of the Huron Street I-94 overpass.
"It's an economic development opportunity as well," Hoffmeister says.
While some of the preparatory work on either end of the project will start this fall, local officials don't believe residents will be able to start crossing safely over the I-94 bridge until some time in 2022. Hoffmeister says that after township officials secure several easements, they hope to break ground and do some grading and construction near the intersection of James L. Hart Parkway and Huron Street before 2021 is out.
Wessler says the city's portion of the pedestrian pathway project has been "bundled" with a couple of other projects that need to happen first, including water main work and a road maintenance project that includes Huron Street that MDOT already had planned for budget year 2022.
"This kind of collaboration lets us fill in these important gaps so we can have a completely non-motorized path that works for everybody," Sanderson says. "The Huron Street project is a perfect example of these partnership-based projects, because it's on the border of Ypsilanti and Ypsi Township, but it's owned by MDOT. This partnership will really make a big difference for the community."
More information about the Huron Street pedestrian pathway and related projects is available through the city of Ypsilanti's Non-Motorized Transportation Plan and the Ypsilanti Township Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe. Construction planning map courtesy of the city of Ypsilanti.