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Efforts to boost environment during I-75 construction honored

A conservation plan designed to protect and, in some cases, boost environmentally sensitive areas along I-75 during its reconstruction in Monroe County has been honored by a transportation trade organization.

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An I-75 work zone near Monroe, Mich. A conservation plan designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas along the highway during its reconstruction has been honored by a transportation trade organization.

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The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has given its President’s Transportation Award in the “environment” category to agencies involved in developing the I-75 Corridor Conservation Action Plan in Monroe County, which “identifies conservation priorities within a 20-mile stretch of I-75” that is being rebuilt in stages.

“Beyond analyzing the impacts of rebuilding the freeway within the existing right-of-way, the conservation plan looked at the surrounding landscape from an ecological perspective of wetlands, watersheds, and plant and animal species in the western Lake Erie area,” Michigan Department of Transportation and Southeast Michigan Council of Governments statements announcing the award read in part.

SEMCOG noted in particular that the plan’s development led to the successful relocation of 1,500 milkweed plants from the I-75 roadside to Sterling State Park.

“MDOT has also partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to restore 34 acres of coastal wetland in the Erie State Gaming Area,” the regional council said.

The freeway runs within sight of Lake Erie most of the way from the Ohio-Michigan border to Monroe, crossing numerous rivers, streams and wetlands along the way.

The first section to be rebuilt — between Dixie Highway and I-275, done in 2015 and 2016 — is not as close to the lake but still crosses watercourses that flow into it.

Up next is the five-mile section between the state line and Erie Road, for which MDOT expects to award a contract in late 2019. Three other sections between Erie and Dixie are planned for reconstruction during the 2020s.

Using a federal grant, MDOT, SEMCOG, and Michigan State University’s Cooperative Extension — including the latter’s Michigan Natural Features Inventory — enlisted technical experts, regulatory agencies, and the general public to draft a plan intended to protect the local ecology beyond the freeway’s right-of-way line.

That included designing stream culverts to support fish and amphibian passage, re-using soils onsite to maintain the presence of local plant seeds, and managing stormwater runoff to reduce pollutant discharges into waterways.

SEMCOG said it expects to use data collected from the plan’s development, and “lessons learned from the project,” when developing other plans like its Regional Transportation Plan and the Water Resources Plan for Southeast Michigan.

“SEMCOG looks forward to using this framework to support conceptual planning and implementation of strategic, cost-effective actions in enhancing the quality of life in southeast Michigan,” said Kathleen Lomako, the council’s executive director.

MDOT’s announcement also discussed three other AASHTO awards it received during that organization’s annual meeting in Phoenix. Those awards were related to the M-1 streetcar project in Detroit, revisions to Michigan’s for-hire passenger transport regulations, and reconstruction of the U.S. 23/I-96 junction near Brighton.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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