Canton Tries to Cure Crash-Filled Crossroads

Two of the most hazardous intersections in Michigan sit in quiet Canton Township. Officials plan to rebuild the road there. But critics have questions. Will road work keep customers from shopping? And will new development create more traffic, new road or not?

Like many in Michigan, residents in Canton Township say they have no bigger concern than the state of the roadways.

In fact, some in the township say there’s a ground zero for their particular driving woes.  

Crash data shows one section of Ford Road in Canton features two of the most dangerous intersections in the state.

Officials are gearing up to rebuild the road.

But critics say they are not sure if reconstructing Ford Road will make traffic problems better or worse. 

Jerome Vaughn

A Road Called Plague

Simply standing at the congested intersection of Ford Road and Lilley in Canton, or the nearby crossroads of Ford and Haggerty, provides ample evidence to back up state and regional data that this is one of the most accident-filled stretches of roadway in all of Michigan.

Some residents say they do anything they can to not drive through here.

“I, like many of the residents in Canton, avoid Ford Road like the plague. The only time I go on Ford Road is when I have to.” – Canton Township Supervisor Pat Williams

That includes the head of Canton’s government.

“I, like many of the residents in Canton, avoid Ford Road like the plague. The only time I go on Ford Road is when I have to.”

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Pat Williams is the Canton Township Supervisor.

He says problems develop on Ford Road because drivers entering or exiting the many restaurants, stores and strip malls lining intersections, as well as those coming off a nearby highway, often have to turn left into the path of oncoming cars or cross many lanes of traffic.

It’s a recipe for accidents that Williams says the township has tried to address for years.

Williams says now, finally, Canton has struck a deal with the state to fix Ford Road.

But he adds there’s a catch. It will be a five year construction project.

“I’ve seen the signs around the county and the state, ‘Short-term pain for long-term gain.’ That’s what’s going to happen,” Williams said. “There’s gonna be a period, especially construction of the boulevard along Ford Road, (when) it’s gonna be rough. But once that’s complete people like myself and my wife and all of our neighbors who try to avoid Ford Road will come back to Ford Road again.”

Redirecting Drivers and Squeezing Business

It’s not a disruption business owners in the area are looking forward to, however.

At the Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital, only a few parking lots away from the corner of Ford and Lilley, owner Michael Petty says he’s already seen the road around his clinic torn-up once.

“The construction went on for months and months. It definitely has an impact on your business. It was a tough time for both us and for the clients that wanted to come in and see us,” he said.

Petty says he’s concerned about the eventual end result as well.

“There’s always so many fixes and then really all it does is encourage more people to use that main artery of traffic. And the increased traffic kind of negates all the money that was spent on trying to fix it in the first place,” Petty said.

Quinn Klinefelter/WDET

Michigan Department of Transportation officials hope to change that pattern by building a thin median along the middle of Ford Road.

Drivers will have no choice but to turn right out of a parking lot, then wait until they reach a traffic roundabout before making a left.

The state and township also want to put together a connecting route where drivers can dodge Ford Road altogether.

The official in charge of the overall project , Adam Penzenstadler, says the state spent many months holding meetings in Canton to devise a plan that will be minimally invasive and still improve traffic safety.

“This is a major change to the road. So it takes a while to make sure that we have everything done correctly,” he said. “There’s conflicts out there, a lot of utility conflicts that we have to look at. So there’s just a lot of things that we have to get through. Also it boils down to funding and when is that money available to be used.”

Canton recently passed a road millage to pay for part of the work. And Penzenstadler says the state will have enough matching federal funds to complete the project.

He says the state is hiring a design team and preparing to begin construction.

In 2022.


Too Much Traffic or Too Many Stores?

Some in Canton say waiting until 2022 to begin work on Ford Road also means many fender-benders and T-bone crashes still waiting to happen.

Strolling along a sidewalk next to stagnant traffic backed-up along Ford Road, a woman who gives her name as Peggy Smith says simply walking towards the corner of Ford and Lilley or Ford and Haggerty can already be a dangerous adventure.

“People ignore everything. They’ll edge out on Ford Road and block two lanes of traffic just to make that left-hand turn. Happens all the time. You’ll see an accident a day easily.”

Tony Brown/WDET

But Smith blames more than just bad driving.

“I understand business is good for the community. But…at some point in time they have to start saying ‘No. We got enough.’ “ – Canton resident Peggy Smith

She says Canton is awash in so much development that even a newly-redesigned road may not ease the crush of customers traveling along Ford Road.

And she says new businesses just keep opening near the accident-prone intersections.

“So they’re gonna quadruple the amount of cars. I understand business is good for the community. But we’ve already got a really good variety of everything. At some point in time they have to start saying ‘No. We got enough.’ “

With that Smith turns and strides towards Ford Road, knowing there are more traffic tie-ups to face — and years of construction yet to come — before she and others in Canton see any real relief at the crowded intersections with Lilley and Haggerty.


Click on the audio link above to hear the full story

Why did we choose Canton? Canton was selected as a featured area for Crossing the Lines due to its dramatic economic and developmental growth, as well as its rapidly increasing diversity.


  • Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.