By Matt Stacey, PE

A history of high crash rates and flooding in the intersection of Ecorse and Belleville Roads in Van Buren Township, MI, left little doubt that improvements were needed. The owner, Wayne County, planned on addressing the deficiencies but struggled to finance a project despite having $1.8 million in Federal money allocated as part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU). Seeing an opportunity to leverage the County’s Federal allotment of funds to implement a major infrastructure upgrade, the Township’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Township committed the remaining funds needed to reconstruct a 4,500-foot section of the boulevard on Ecorse Road along with a 6,000-foot section of service roadway and sanitary sewer and water main upgrades to accommodate future development.

Located within the DDA District’s boundary, the intersection is part of a high-traffic road network that includes significant areas of undeveloped land considered a prime site for development along this major artery of the Detroit Region Aerotropolis economic development corridor. An oddly configured intersection, Ecorse Road features four lanes separated by a median as well as service drives on both sides. This resulted in an abnormally-long intersection for traffic travelling on Belleville Road and driver confusion due to the multiple access points to Belleville Road from Ecorse Road and the service drives. Ecorse Road also transitions to a two-lane road immediately east of the intersection adding to safety issues.

Wade Trim prepared a preliminary engineering report for the DDA that compared three alternatives to alleviate traffic congestion, improve safety, and enhance traffic flow along both roads. A traditional five-lane roadway intersection, a two-lane roundabout and a boulevard were evaluated to determine the best solution that could be implemented using the initial funds allocated. In addition, a comprehensive traffic operations and safety analysis was performed.

Working with the County, the three alternatives were evaluated to determine which best fit the needs of all stakeholders. The roundabout was feasible, but not optimal for the designated usage of the corridor as a direct link for freight between two airports and adjoining freeways. The higher cost boulevard alternative was preferred by the County and DDA for future development opportunities and most consistent with the County’s future master plan for the corridor. The DDA and County agreed to a cost-sharing arrangement to fund the boulevard.

Recognizing the opportunity to cost-effectively implement utility improvements during road construction activities, the Township integrated two miles of sanitary sewer replacement and 6,000 feet of 12-inch water main rehabilitation into the project. Past development opportunities in the area had fallen through, in part, because the sewer required additional capacity to accommodate the loads needed for the proposed master plan usage of the area. There were also concerns about maintaining the integrity of the existing water main during sewer construction.

To address the safety deficiencies in this unique intersection, the entire road was reconfigured within the existing right-of-way to a traditional boulevard section with crossovers on either side of the intersection (implementing the Michigan left-turn configuration) and a wide median. These limits were challenging because a shift in alignment of the roadway was required to accommodate the widening and create a smooth transition to the existing two-lane roadway to the east. Left turns at the intersection were eliminated, reducing conflicts and adding capacity, while crossovers were added to give drivers more flexibility to change directions in a controlled fashion. This resulted in more than 4,500 feet of Ecorse Road being reconstructed. In addition to correcting access issues from Belleville Road onto Ecorse Road, the service drives connecting to Belleville Road were also reconfigured to block off their access to Belleville Road and re-route traffic to Ecorse Road. The design also had to meet Federal, Michigan Department of Transportation and Wayne County standards.

While the DDA was an overriding force in bringing this project to fruition, their participation added a constraint to the project because DDA monies could not be used to fund road reconstruction outside the DDA’s boundary. To fully implement the boulevard design through the intersection and transition back to the two-lane roadway required improvements outside of the DDA limits. The roadway design had to keep the cost of this work under the project’s federal allotment of money.

An elaborate drainage system was designed to address deficiencies in the area, alleviate ponding and meet current standards. Care was required in the design of the updated drainage system to avoid the number and complexity of critical utilities located at the intersection including 30- and 36-inch high pressure gas mains that service significant portions of western Wayne County, a number of AT&T facilities and Detroit Edison facilities.

The design files for the new roadway’s surface model were provided to the contractor for use in their machine grading operations. This process automates construction by using GPS technology to directly link design data to heavy equipment that automatically adjust to follow the grades of the new road. This process saves money by eliminating intermediate survey required to establish the base course of the roadway.

Construction began in the summer of 2012 with the eastbound roadway, more than half of the sanitary sewer and all of the water main completed. Spring of 2013 will see the remainder of the work completed including the westbound roadway, the service drive and the remaining sanitary sewer.

Working together to see this project through, all stakeholders have maximized the benefits of a shared investment. Wayne County leveraged Federal funds to update a critical asset at minimal cost. The Township has significantly upgraded utilities without incurring the accompanying road restoration costs and the DDA will better position this major corridor and the area for future development. When the roadway is completed, all stakeholders can take pride in providing a safer and more operationally efficient intersection for the 26,000 drivers who pass through it each day.

Matt Stacey, PE, is the Transportation Group Manager in our Taylor, MI, office. He has 19 years of experience in management and design of urban arterial resurfacing and reconstruction projects. He can be reached at mstacey@wadetrim.com or 734.947.9700.

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Major elements of the roadway reconfiguration included eliminating left turns at the intersection and adding crossovers to change directions, limiting access to Ecorse Road from Belleville Road, and eliminating service drive access to Belleville Road. In addition, a shift in roadway alignment provides a safe and smooth transition from the new boulevard section back to the existing two-lane roadway.