Recently announced new 696 construction will disrupt drivers’ commutes; highlight need for increased attention to work zone safety and extending Move Over law to construction workers
Driving in this slippery, snowy, wintery weather while dodging new potholes can be challenging, but in a few short months it may seem like heaven compared to what commuting will be like once two enormous 696 construction projects roll into Macomb County and Oakland County this Spring.
The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the following road construction projects on I-696 will start up once the snow melts:
- In Macomb County, road construction to replace all pavement will shut down all westbound traffic on I-696 between I-75 and I-94 for approximately six months – thereby forcing as many as 75,000 daily drivers onto the side-roads in the communities bordering the east-west interstate.
- In Oakland County, road construction to make pavement repairs will involve both east- and west-bound lanes of I-696 between I-75 and I-275. But the lanes will not be closed during the weekdays – when most drivers need them. Instead, work will be done at night and over 10 weekends. The duration of this project has not been publicly announced, yet.
(Source: “Will I-696 road work mean traffic nightmare for metro Detroit drivers?,” Detroit Free Press, Christina Hall, February 12, 2018; http://movingmacomb.org/i696/)
These are a couple of big-time construction projects, for sure, and I know that many drivers are going to be affected and inconvenienced by the accompanying lane closures and delays on the various alternate routes that will suddenly swell with scrambling commuters.
696 Construction should bring real concern over construction worker safety
One of the things about the 696 construction projects that concerns me is the work zone safety implications for the road workers and construction workers toiling away to fix the roads we all depend on so heavily.
As an accident lawyer who has unfortunately had to help too many of these road workers who have been hit and seriously injured by cars, or worked with grieving families when they have been hit and killed by cars speeding in construction zones, this safety issue always gets ignored when new road projects are announced.
The statistics from recent years confirm what a real concern this is.
There were 4,908 work zone crashes in 2016, which was up 32 from 2015, according to a Michigan Department of Transportation press release from April 3, 2017. Additionally, serious injuries and fatalities increased between 2015 and 2016 (69 to 75 and 15 to 17, respectively).
Given the dangerous trend we’ve recently seen in work zone safety and the magnitude of the forthcoming I-696 projects, lawmakers should use this as a reason and an opportunity to make a much-needed change to Michigan’s Move Over Law.
Specifically, I’m hoping they will act on House Bill 5382, which proposes to require drivers to move over a lane (or, at least, slow down if moving over isn’t possible) when “a construction worker is present” on a “public roadway.”
What alternative routes will people devise to avoid 696 construction?
With the total closure of all westbound lanes on I-696 between I-94 and I-75, it’s estimated that 75,000 daily drivers will be displaced.
The official, recommended detour for the closed, westbound I-696 travelers is to go the long way around: I-94 west to Detroit, over to I-75, then north to resume westbound travel on I-696.
Other options mentioned by the Detroit Free Press included:
- Hall Road/M-59 in Macomb and Oakland counties: However, the stretch going west from Garfield Road to Romeo Plank will also be under construction during the same time as the I-696 construction.
- The “mile” roads: “We all know what’s gonna happen. They’re gonna take every east-west route between 8 Mile and 16 Mile,” a highway engineer with the Macomb County Department of Roads told the Free Press.