Study aims to curb congestion, crashes on Ford road

‘There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of driveways, a lot of accidents. There’s an opportunity through managing the access to improve the all that.’
—Carmine Palombo, SEMCOG director of transportation planning

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

A regional traffic force will start meeting later this month to address the frequent congestion and accidents along the Ford Road corridor.

Representatives from three other local communities will join Dearborn and Dearborn Heights officials on the project – known as an “access management study” – which is being orchestrated by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation. The study will cover about 10 miles of the historic state highway, from the eastern terminus at Wyoming Avenue in Dearborn to Venoy Road in Westland.

Carmine Palombo, SEMCOG director of transportation planning, said the stretch of road was picked for the study after officials in all participating communities requested guidance on dealing with some of the problem spots.

“Ford Road fits the qualifications,” he said. “It’s a busy road, there’s a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of driveways, there’s a lot of accidents. There’s an opportunity through managing the access to improve the all that.”

According to SEMCOG, access management is a technique to maximize existing road capacity and reduce potential accidents by limiting and carefully spacing the number of access points such as commercial driveways and median crossovers, as as well as by designing the road and access points to serve all users – not just motorists.

Those principles weren’t established when the first stretch of Ford Road was completed in 1930. Designed as something of a forerunner to I-94, the then-mostly rural route was a fast track between the region’s manufacturing center in Detroit and its intellectual hub in Ann Arbor. But as communities began forming around the arterial thoroughfare, a lack of coherent planning has led to a patchwork of zoning ordinances, speed limits and, consequently, misplaced access points.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Dearborn Heights. Despite comprising a mere two of the city’s 216 roadway miles, Ford Road is home to four of the highest-crash intersections in the city, according to SEMCOG data. The highest crash intersection, Beech Daly, is ranked as the second-highest crash intersection in Wayne County.

Councilwoman Janet Badalow, who will represent Dearborn Heights in the study, recently attended a related workshop where some of the city’s Ford Road driveways were cited as examples of poor planning. While the problems are characteristic of older communities, it was still an eye-opener, she said.

“They showed us a perfect model, and then they showed us our community,” said Badalow. “They said if you started all over again you would probably opt for less driveways and more common areas, because then it directs traffic away from intersections, which are the big problem points.”

In Dearborn, the problem is not as acute, mainly due to sparse development. But city officials wanted to participate in the study in the event that development does intensify in the future. Another issue they hope to address is the Altar Road intersection near Evergreen.

The road services three houses of worship with only a single outlet onto Ford Road. When all of the facilities are in use, traffic can be trying, said Economic and Community Development Director Barry Murray, who is representing the city in the study.

“That’s not really an ideal layout so if we could identify some potential changes we would certainly be receptive to that,” he said.

The study is expected to take about six months and will employ both new and existing data. Upon completion, a comprehensive list of suggestions will be laid out. While it isn’t certain what the results will hold, a similar study in Canton Township roughly 10 years ago resulted in zoning changes that have helped make traffic smoother, Palombo said.

“They did a lot of zoning changes so that when property owners would renovate, they would be encouraged or required to share access with other businesses,” he said.