FLINT, MI — City officials are promoting a massive project to remake I-475 in the downtown area, a proposal that calls for filling in the existing interstate, creating a boulevard route near the center of the city, and freeing up about 30 acres of new land for development.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s administration previewed the idea in a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday, Oct. 22, emphasizing the proposal requires much more study and approval by the Michigan Department of Transportation, but promoting it as a way to reconnect downtown with the Flint Cultural Center and surrounding neighborhoods.

MDOT is conducting a study on future work for I-475 and just completed a $44 million project that rebuilt three miles of the interstate and made repairs along nearly 18 miles, including electrical and signal work, guardrail installation, pavement markings, and new signs.

The state road agency is currently looking at improvements in the area of I-475 from Fifth to Kearsley streets, city officials said, while the city’s conceptual plan stretches the work area further — from Court Street to Davison Road.

City officials said Wednesday that in addition to more traditional repaving projects, the state should also consider the feasibility of doing something more.

“If we are going to place massive investments in our community that’s going to impact the next generation, how about we do it in a way that shapes and builds the community that we would like moving forward,” said Brain Larkin, Neeley’s chief of staff.
Larkin said I-475, which opened in the early 1970s and helped ferry thousands of autoworkers daily to the old General Motors’ Buick City site, “was put down for the purpose of looking at how vehicles can move through as quickly and expediently as possible with very little concern for the neighborhoods and communities left behind in its wake.”

The redevelopment project presented Wednesday borrows from a similar reconstruction in Rochester, N.Y., which spent $21 million in mostly state and federal funds to fill in and rebuild a portion of expressway adjacent to its downtown, creating bicycle and walking lanes and freeing up land that was used to create $325 million in new development.

Ridgway White, president and chief executive officer of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, participated in Wednesday’s town hall and said the foundation. is considering lending its support for some of the initial planning and economic development studies that would be needed if the project gains steam and is supported by residents.

“I love the idea,” White said of the proposal.
Neeley called the redevelopment proposal for I-475 “very preliminary,” but added, “without vision we have no life.”
The mayor said residents will have additional opportunities to offer their thoughts on the proposal through meetings held by the city and MDOT.
Jocelyn Hall, an MDOT spokeswoman, said earlier this week that the state has a “great deal of work … planned for I-475 as part of our Rebuilding Michigan plan.”
“We do have a study being conducted to look at both M-21 and I-475 and determine the feasibility of some changes to the corridor,” Hall said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal. “That being said, I-475 is a federal interstate and expected to carry high speed traffic, and also serve as a detour route for I-75. So any feasibility studies will also need to take into account our traffic volumes and speeds typical for I-475.”
I-475 was originally built following the city’s development of a master plan in 1960 that called for slum clearance, redevelopment of under-invested areas, and the creation of the expressway.
The construction also dislocated residents and separated neighborhoods.

A Downtown Development Authority “game plan” for downtown in January 2019 started the conversation that led to Wednesday’s meeting. It suggested creating long term development opportunities in-place of I-475 from I-69 North to Robert T. Longway Boulevard.

“Narrowing the Interstate into a calm, urban boulevard will facilitate better connectivity with adjacent neighborhoods, improve downtown gateways and offer long term development opportunities,” the report says.