I-696 History

I-696, The Walter P. Reuther Freeway

I-696 is an eight-lane freeway between I-275/I-96 and I-94 and carries approximately 180,000 vehicles a day. It includes the I-75 interchange, making it one of the most important east/west routes in the state. Named the Walter P. Reuther Freeway in 1971, the 25-mile long roadway connects the communities of Novi, Farmington Hills, Southfield, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Huntington Woods, (Pleasant Ridge), and Royal Oak in Oakland County and Madison Heights, Warren, Center Line, Roseville, and St. Clair Shores in Macomb County.

I-696 was built in three phases and took about three decades to be completed:

Phase I—Western Section, I-96 to M-10

1961

  • Construction starts on the first segment, from I-96 in Novi, to the east of the John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10).

1962

  • The Lodge Freeway—from downtown Detroit to Meyers Road—is renamed the I-696 Business Spur (BS I-696), which is the first step in creating one long freeway route from Novi to downtown Detroit.

1963

  • Phase I of the first 4.5 miles of the freeway are completed July 29.
  • The remaining 3.5-mile-long segment of Phase I is completed and opens to traffic Dec 2.
  • BS I-696/Lodge Frwy is completed.
  • Total cost for the Phase I Western Section from 96 to M-10, is $16.6 million, or $267 million today.

Phase II—Eastern Section, I-75 to I-94

1966

  • The Michigan State Highway Commission receives the go-ahead to extend I-696 from Telegraph Road and BS I-696/Lodge Frwy to I-94 Edsel Ford Frwy on the Roseville/St. Clair Shores boundary.
  • The eastern third of the I-696 freeway becomes part of the state trunkline system, from I-75 on the Madison Heights/Royal Oak city limit to I-94 in Roseville.

1970

  • BS I-696 designation is changed to US-10.

1970s  

  • Construction of Phase II begins between I-75 to I-94.
  • The service drive between I-94 and I-75—now 11 Mile Road—is designated as M-6, during construction of the eastern section of the freeway.

1971

  • The Michigan Legislature names Interstate 696 the “Walter P. Reuther Freeway” to honor the late union leader and his wife, following their tragic death in a plane crash on May 9, 1970. Mr. Reuther was a former American labor union leader of the United Automobile Workers Union from 1946 until 1970. Mr. Reuther led the United Automobile Workers Union from 1946 until 1970, and was known for his unwavering advocacy for better working conditions for both men and women, as well as housing, and environmental and healthcare improvements for workers.

1979

  • After a three-year delay, the eastern section of Walter P. Reuther Freeway opens but closes again the following spring (1980) for two months to finish two sections of a sewer tunnel under the freeway.
  • Total construction cost for Phase II Eastern Section, from 75 to 94, is $200 million, equivalent to $982 million today.
  • With the eastern and western sections open, the Reuther Freeway remains disconnected by a seven-mile gap, although plans were being designed for the central section.

Phase III—Central Section, M-10 to I-75

1965

  • The state announces plans to connect the eastern and western segments of the Reuther Freeway, which is met with extreme opposition from local residents, businesses and municipalities.

1970s

  • Construction of the central section of the freeway continues to be held up by people concerned about pedestrian access, environmental effects on adjacent wetlands, and right of way.

1981

  • The freeway receives final approval to proceed with construction after several revisions to the design are made to accommodate community needs, including three 700-foot-wide landscaped plazas to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians, a parking ramp and other improvements to mitigate noise and air pollution at the Detroit Zoo, an eleven-acre wetland to sustain the environment, and extensive retaining walls.

1984

  • Construction begins on the central section of the freeway to connect east and west I-696.

1986

  • The work between Campbell and Hilton in Royal Oak, to I-75 is completed first and opens to the public.

1989

  • On Dec 14th at 5 p.m., the final central section is opened to traffic.
  • The total cost of the three-phase project is $675 million, which is equivalent to $1.69 billion today.

2018 Upcoming Spring and Fall Construction

It has been decades since the construction of the Walter P. Reuther Freeway. Roads and lanes have been deteriorating over this time, and ongoing patchwork repairs will no longer suffice for this major thoroughfare. MDOT plans to implement a major rehabilitation project between April/spring and November/fall 2018 that will:

  • Replace all pavement on 10 miles of the Walter Reuther Freeway/696 in Macomb County, in both directions, eastbound and westbound, from I-75 to I-94.
  • Close only the WB lanes from I-75 to I-94 and always keep EB traffic open throughout construction. Traffic will be shifted onto the new pavement in Phase II of the project. Also in Phase II, limited exit ramps will be open for EB traffic and all access onto EB I-696 will be closed.
  • Repair service drives from Couzens Road to I-94 in 2019.
  • In Oakland County, repair 15 miles of pavement in both directions, from I-275 to I-75 by closing lanes on nights and weekends, and keeping all lanes open during weekday daytime hours.
  • The cost of the 696 project is approximately $110 million.

MDOT is aware that this project will have a major impact on many residents, businesses and motorists throughout the corridor. To help you plan your routes and arrive safely at your destination, we will provide ongoing and timely updates about construction through several sources including the www.MovingMacomb.org website, Facebook and Twitter.

Did You Know?

  • In the 1960s, then Gov. George Romney locked several legislators and government employees in a community center until they agreed on a path for the freeway.
  • At the dedication ceremony for the completion of I-696 in 1989, Gov. James Blanchard joked that he wasn’t alive when the freeway was first proposed and he “never thought it would go through.”
  • Many Michigan residents call I-696 "Detroit's Autobahn" because of the way people drive its lanes every day.

Construction Completed

Moving Macomb