Flint, MI—Over 50 residents convened at Flint’s Whiting Auditorium to give their thoughts on a $300 million reconstruction project for I-475.
Aside from a 30-minute presentation, the March 22 meeting included banquet tables of aerial view printouts featuring color-coded proposed bridges, enhanced crossings, green spaces, and other design elements, depending on the segment of the roadway depicted.
Residents were encouraged to put sticky notes with feedback on the printouts, but some also spoke up.
“All right, but what exactly is an ‘enhanced crossing’?” said another, pointing to a pink section of another printout view.
The Michigan Department of Transportation and HTNB, an architecture firm supporting MDOT on the I-475 redesign, met with Flint residents at the meeting to hear and respond to feedback.
The HTNB representative said enhanced crossings would basically amount to widened, landscaped bridges over the expressway to create more of a buffer between automobile and non-motorized traffic.
“This looks like a nightmare for pedestrians,” said one resident of the urban boulevard design, which would reconstruct the highway’s lanes to be level with the surrounding streets downtown.
After the crowd sat down for the presentation, Carissa McQuiston of MDOT opened with a review of the interstate’s planning and design process and highlighted the project’s boundaries: roughly where I-475 meets I-75 at both its north and south end.
The project is then further delineated into three segments for the roadway designs—north, or I-75 to the Flint River; middle, Flint’s downtown area from the Flint River to the I-475/I-69 interchange; and south, I-475/I-69 interchange to Hill Road.
McQuiston noted MDOT had already received a lot of feedback from residents. That feedback included adding memorials for the Floral Park and St. John neighborhoods that were lost to I-475’s original construction, adding noise barriers, improving connectivity to cultural centers, and improving “active transportation” or pedestrian/bike/non-motorized transportation connectivity and safety across the roadway.
Next, Dustin Elliott, HTNB’s project manager for the I-475 Planning and Environmental Linkages Study to determine a final plan for the roadway, discussed the preliminary designs residents had just had the chance to view on the Whiting’s banquet tables.
Those designs included a no-build option, which would leave the roadway as-is and is meant mostly as a baseline to which MDOT can compare alternative designs; a modified existing freeway design, which would take the main roadway down to four lanes from its current six and remove some ramps; a reduced footprint freeway design, which would also reduce the highway from six lanes to four as well as replace the current slope at the freeway’s sides to retaining walls, effectively narrowing I-475’s footprint; and an urban boulevard design, which brings the roadway level with the surrounding streets and neighborhoods from the I-69 interchange to the Flint River.
Elliott noted that all designs were preliminary and that each option was not exclusive: elements of all of them or none of them could be incorporated into the final design for I-475 depending on public feedback and study results.
Additionally, Elliott presented options for “active transportation” designs for pedestrians and bikers, as well as ideas for where to incorporate more crossings over the highway.
“I’m most interested in those crossings down there on the south end,” said Wendell Johnson, a Flint resident and traveling salesman, after the presentation. Johnson grew up attending school near the south segment of I-475 and said he could see the need for more pedestrian crossings there.
As a traveling salesman, he also said he uses I-475 daily. When asked if he would be upset by a design with fewer lanes for his commute, Johnson said, “Oh no, I’m fine with reduced lanes. Most of the traffic I deal with happens on I-75.”
As the meeting wrapped up, McQuiston said she believed it a success and that MDOT had already received a new piece of feedback thanks to the evening’s attendees.
“It’s the first time we’ve heard about maintenance,” she said, as one resident had told the assembled audience she was most concerned about the designs leaving money for general upkeep. She called the I-69/I-475 interchange a “trash area” despite being “beautifully landscaped 10-15 years ago.”
“So that’s something else to consider,” McQuiston said.
MDOT’s Planning and Environmental Linkages Study for the I-475 redesign will continue into Fall 2022, with one more public feedback session that has not yet been scheduled.
MDOT’s full presentation from March 22, 2022 can be found here, and further comments on I-475 design alternatives can be submitted through that presentation or on MDOT’s website.