Chunks of concrete and reinforced steel bars are scattered below I-75’s towering Rouge River Bridge.
On some days, light pokes through holes on the long-neglected span, which is used by 115,000 vehicles a day and rises 103 feet above the Rouge. The soaring concrete columns are cracked, and portions are breaking apart.
Although state and federal officials concluded earlier this year that the bridge is “structurally deficient” and in need of critical repair, the 48-year-old span remains open and won’t be fixed for at least two more years, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
Last week, a gaping, 4-foot hole opened up on the bridge, exposing the reinforced steel bars, some of which snapped off and fell to the ground. Beneath the deteriorating span, crews patched up the widening hole with thin wood boards.
“It scares the hell out of me,” said Jordan Collins, who drives to work from Detroit to Downriver every weekday. “The worst part is getting stuck in traffic (because of an accident) and seeing how far from the ground you are.”
The state has known since at least 2011 that the 1.6-mile bridge was in critical need of repair. An inspection that year warned the bridge was “structurally deficient.”
Road officials acknowledge the hazards but insist the bridge is safe – for now – and that no funding is immediately available for structural repairs. The state expects to spend $80 million to replace the deck. A new span would cost $300 million, according to MDOT.
MDOT records show the state has spent about $2 million a year on repairs in the past two decades. At least four large holes have opened on the road so far this year.
A close look by photographer Mark Hall uncovered alarming evidence of deterioration. The concrete columns are cracked and shedding. Steel rods designed to reinforce the bridge are rusted and littered on the ground below, where concrete chunks also have fallen.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.
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