Closed I-94 bridge lanes scheduled to reopen this week

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

The orange sign with the wavy arrow may be unintentionally prophetic, as traffic backups above the Southfield Freeway soon may become as tedious as the slowdowns below. State officials’ concerns over bridge safety resulted in a shutdown Thursday of two of the three lanes of the eastbound I-94 bridge over the Southfield in Allen Park.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – Two lanes of the eastbound I-94 overpass above Southfield Road were shut down by the Michigan Department of Transportation Thursday over concerns that the pavement has dropped.

MDOT officials say the drop, estimated at a quarter of an inch to half an inch, could indicate a problem with the bridge’s support. The westbound side of the freeway was not affected.

MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said Friday afternoon that he expected the ramps and lanes to be reopened at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Department bridge inspectors called for permission to close lanes immediately Thursday afternoon in order to assess repair needs.

E. C. Korneffel Co. of Trenton was awarded a contract for $114,500 to complete repairs over the weekend. The company has 60 years experience with heavy service design and bid, as well as project completion and owner acceptance and recently completed the Greenfield overpass repair over Ford Road in Dearborn.

Vice President Graham Korneffel said Friday afternoon that the project was a “maintenance issue, and that footings did not “drop” because of the recent thaw.

“It’s nothing like that,” he said, adding that while he’s still waiting for a report from company workers, “I don’t believe it’s anything too urgent.”

“Just the highway department doing their due diligence,” Korneffel said, “and with the lack of funding, sometimes some of these things are on a schedule and they take care of them, and sometimes they don’t.

“I don’t think there’s any issue here, and I think the weather’s probably a factor, too.”

He added that vibrations from trucks really aren’t an issue, because the bridge is designed for that.

“The structure’s on pilings and it’s been there about 25 years,” Korneffel said. “It’s on a deep, supported foundation system, and really vibration doesn’t have any kind of an effect here.

“It’s just a maintenance issue is all it is.”

Crews most likely won’t fill in empty spots with blacktop or concrete, he said, though he isn’t sure how they will handle it.

“It’s not really a serious issue,” Korneffel said, “it’s more of a precautionary thing that they are taking care of right now.”

He said he’s not sure what caused the shift MDOT officials noticed, or that there has been one.

Morosi said the Pelham ramp to eastbound I-94 was closed to restrict traffic flow and prevent traffic backups and “road rage” from motorists trying to get onto restricted lanes. Recommended detours for the weekend include eastbound Michigan Avenue and Ford Road to connect with I-94, or Telegraph south to reconnect with I-94.

Morosi believes the shift cited in closing the bridge likely is due to wear and tear over a period 26 years — the bridge was completed in 1984 — that settled the pavement.

“That’s what raised the red flags,” he said. “Essentially we’re not looking at anything catastrophic. We construct bridges with enough redundancy that if one aspect were to fail, the other components of the bridge are built to kind of assist, if you will – if something were to fail.

The interim fix will be to shore up the structure and add some temporary steel I-beams under the bridge.

Morosi said officials looking into what they need to do to replace the bridge or make extensive enough repairs to get “another 36 to 40 years without any issues whatsoever.”

“It’s going to be safe,” he said. “The interim repairs will add substantial support. It’s going to be safe to drive.”