Canton Merchants Fear Fixing Roads Could Drive Business Away

The pandemic brought a host of new problems to Metro Detroit. But drivers in Canton face an issue that has lingered for years. It’s a roughly half-mile stretch of Ford Road that contains some of the most crash-filled crossroads in the state of Michigan.

This story is part of WDET’s Crossing the Lines: Canton Battles COVID series, reconnecting listeners with the people they met and issues they discovered during WDET’s 2019 Crossing the Lines Canton. Now, two years later, explore how the township of Canton has fared during the coronavirus pandemic and examine how the lives of residents have changed over the past year. 

On a recent Friday, limo driver and longtime Canton resident Gary Singh heaves a sigh as he steers his Town Car toward a pair of intersections on Ford Road.

He says he’s heading toward almost certain trouble.

“Lilley and Ford, Ford and Haggerty, that’s mostly the danger zone,” Singh says. “People trying to come onto Ford Road from all the restaurants. Sometime they got to wait three, four, five minutes to (merge) in and they lose patience. Anytime they see a small room to get in they’ll try to come in there. That’s why almost every day there’s multiple accidents.”

Singh says it’s often risky just turning into parking lots near the intersection of Ford and Lilley.

“I’ve seen a lot of rollovers … One car will let the person turn and then they can’t see the other person coming in the next lane. And there’s always, like, a T-bone.” –Canton resident Nicole Hurley

Those inside the Crown Liquor and Fine Wine store, housed in a strip mall near that crossroads, say the traffic there is so treacherous it can, well, drive them to drink.

“It’s terrible,” laments one employee. “So terrible!”

And customer Nicole Hurley says it’s not just this strip mall.

She says the problem is Ford Road has two lanes of traffic in each direction but no easy way to turn left against the traffic flow. Try to drive out of a plaza, she says, and the exit becomes a magnet for motorized mayhem.

“I’ve seen a lot of rollovers … One car will let the person turn and then they can’t see the other person coming in the next lane. And there’s always, like, a T-bone. I’ve lived in Canton 15 years. I’ve probably seen four or five accidents right in that same spot,” Hurley says.

Standing next in line at the store, Wayne resident Curtis Sykes grits his teeth and tightens his grip on his newly purchased bottle.

He says he had to brave drivers seemingly ready to run another off the road just to reach the parking lot here.

“Right now, just pulling up to the store, I almost saw an accident. On a Friday like today, when people’s ready to get home and enjoy the weekend, there can be a little road rage out there.”

A Michigan Left To Make It Right?

State and regional data shows the Ford and Lilley and Ford and Haggerty intersections are among the most dangerous in the state.  

After years of trying, in 2018 the township finally passed a millage that will help pay to reconstruct those cross streets, as well as a two-and-a-half mile stretch of Ford Road and a quarter-mile north and south of Haggerty.

Listen: Canton residents and officials recite tales of traffic terror driving through some of the state’s most dangerous intersections and what’s being done to cure the problems.

The majority of the funding comes from state and federal matching funds.

But the millage did not pass overwhelmingly.

Roads remain a hot topic in Canton.

“If we had continued doing what we had been doing we would never get to a place where we have even remotely acceptable roads.” –Canton Township Clerk Michael Siegrist

Even the community’s government cable TV show dedicated a segment to what Township Clerk Michael Siegrist called Canton’s “abhorrent” roads.

“It looked like there were no solutions (for) them,” Siegrist said. “If we had continued doing what we had been doing we would never get to a place where we have even remotely acceptable roads. Three of the most dangerous intersections in Wayne County are right here in Canton on Ford Road.”

Tony Brown/WDET
Tony Brown/WDET

The advent of COVID-19 did not hurt funding to rebuild the roadway.

The estimated $43 million necessary for the work targeted at Ford Road was already set aside.

But the project manager in charge of the reconstruction, the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Adam Penzenstadler, says the pandemic seems to have had an effect on drivers’ behavior.

“Traffic volumes are way down but unfortunately crashes are up. And that is statewide and actually nationwide, not specific just to this corridor. But there has been an increase in crashes over the last year. People have been driving faster,” he says.

Penzenstadler suggests the more barren a road appears, the more likely a driver will feel free to speed along it.

He says he can’t simply slow vehicles down. But he says he can keep them from cutting across traffic on Ford Road by turning it into a new boulevard with a median down its center.

“It will eliminate all of those direct left turns. Drivers will use crossovers to make what’s commonly referred to as that Michigan left,” he says.

‘We’re Already Struggling’

Penzenstadler estimates the design work for the project should be done by the end of the year.

He says officials still need to buy some property at certain portions of Ford Road, to widen it enough that trucks can make the turn-around.

Construction is slated to begin in 2022, a two-year process that will still allow access to restaurants and stores.

But it will also reduce Ford Road down a single lane.

That prospect worries some in the project’s path.

Quinn Klinefelter/WDET
Quinn Klinefelter/WDET

Back inside the Crown liquor store, employee Ray Nowak nods knowingly while a series of angry horns blare from cars in the parking lot.

Nowak says drivers already use the strip mall entrance to avoid the Ford and Lilley intersection.

“This parking lot, you got people trying to cut through … to make a turn over here. That’s where most accidents happen. It’s gonna make it worse if you’re gonna try and put a median out there.”

It’s the same story a few doors down, at the Basement Burger Bar.

Manager David Azar shakes his head at the kind of traffic congestion likely to occur on a single-lane Ford Road.

And even though construction won’t begin until next year, Azar says his restaurant is still reeling right now from capacity restrictions and other rules mandated by the state in response to the pandemic.

He does not cherish the idea of adding a couple years of road work in front of his establishment.   

“That’s a long time, you know. That’s a long time if that does reduce business. We’re already struggling with COVID. That’s gonna affect business more and I’m not sure that would be the best time for it,” Azar says.

State officials held four public meetings when they were studying the project.

But that was before the pandemic hit.

They say they are working with business owners in Canton, plan another meeting to get feedback once the project design is complete and a final meeting before construction begins.

Yet it all remains a balancing act, ensuing stores and restaurants on Ford Road stay afloat while keeping those driving there safe.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    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.