Oak Park will receive millions in federal transportation funds to rebuild a deck plaza above I-696. This was the area that cut through the Orthodox Jewish Community of the city when the freeway was constructed in the 1980s.
Paved pathways, trees, play structures and other amenities were added and the plaza above the freeway became Victoria Park, similar to what was done at Rothstein Park, created on a second deck plaza above I-696 in Oak Park.
With support from Michigan U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, $21.7 million in federal funds will go to the Michigan Department of Transportation to pay for the deck plaza where Victoria Park is.
'Walkability and upgraded infrastructure remain high on our list of local priorities,' said Oak Park City Manager Erik Tungate. 'These federal funds will help us improve access through connected neighborhoods on either side of I-696.'
Oak Park officials will start meeting with MDOT representatives this week on the upcoming improvements to be made at the Victoria Park deck plaza.
The bottom of the deck plaza is over traffic traveling in both directions on I-696.
Mayor Marian McClellan said water seeped through the deck plaza and during the cold months of the year created large icicles that caused safety issues when they fell on to the freeway.
Around 2015-16 a reconstruction was done to stop the icicles, but they were as bad as before after the project was completed.
Since then, MDOT has done maintenance to address the icicles each winter, said Rob Barrett,
Oak Park's director of municipal services.
'MDOT is working closely with us to make sure the Orthodox Jewish Community can have a route to the synagog south of I-696' during the upcoming construction, Barrett said.
The project is still in the design phase right now.
However, Barrett said additional amenities will be included after reconstruction of the Victoria Park plaza.
'There may be a pavilion with picnic tables and the play structure may be replaced, though it is relatively new,' Barrett said.
Oak Park is using federal funds as part of the Reconnecting Communities Pilot program.
The initiative is to reconnect communities that are cut off from opportunity and 'burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions,' according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Oak Park's project was one of 45 that received $185 million in grants.
'Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities,' U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. 'We are proud to announce the first grantees of our Reconnecting Communities Program, which will unite neighborhoods, ensure the future is better than the past, and provide Americans with better access to jobs, health care, groceries and other essentials.'
The program will also fund upgrades along Kalamazoo and Michigan avenues in Kalamazoo with traffic calming measures and pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Similarly, the improvements to be made in Oak Park will continue to maintain pedestrian and bicycle connections in the city on both sides of I-696.
President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the Reconnecting Communities Program.