Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Edsel Ford Expressway

The Edsel Ford Expressway, also known as I-94, is part of one of the oldest urban interstate highways in the country. When the United States entered World War II, construction began on what was called the Willow Run Expressway. This 14-mile stretch of four lane divided highway was ready in time to get workers from Detroit to the new Willow Run Bomber Plant that opened near Ypsilanti in 1941. As it was extended eastward over the next decade, other portions were named. Following the Willow Run Expressway, a 16-mile section called the Detroit Industrial Highway went to Wyoming Street, around Dearborn, and then became the Edsel Ford Expressway through Detroit. Today, the Edsel Ford Expressway is a small segment of the I-94 freeway that travels 275 miles across Michigan’s southern Lower Peninsula from New Buffalo on Lake Michigan to Port Huron at the southernmost point of Lake Huron.

Though new interstate highways made urban expansion possible, their construction was often devastating to the urban neighborhoods they displaced. Over 2,800 buildings were demolished to accommodate building the Edsel Ford Freeway, disproportionately affecting inner city urban poor in Detroit’s African-American neighborhoods. Though a variety of names were suggested for the portion of I-94 that passed through metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Common Council voted on April 23, 1946 to honor Edsel Ford, the only son of Henry Ford, and president of the Ford Motor Company from 1918-1943.

The completion of the Edsel Ford Expressway during the mid-1950s helped launch a Detroit Streets and Rails (DSR) campaign to win back lost riders. They first proposed a high-speed rail line to operate along the center median of the expressway, but it was never built. Instead, they incorporated a number of “bus interchanges” or boarding stations along the Edsel Ford Expressway. Coaches would exit the expressway via the exit ramp, follow a special lane leading to street-level boarding stations to board passengers, and then merge back onto the expressway. For a time, such plans made Detroit an innovator in public transportation, but the system could not withstand budget cuts and a dwindling number of riders. The Edsel Ford Expressway was better suited to individual riders in cars, as more and more people moved from the city to the new suburbs made easily accessible by the interstates.



Photo of the Edsel Ford Freeway

 Edsel Ford Freeway and the Lodge Freeway

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