PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — Traffic flow and road design are just a couple of things that can make or break economic development for an entire city. It's something that's happening right now in Pontiac, but the city is looking to change that as they work to reconstruct the Woodward loop from a one-way street to a two-way street.
It was back in 1962 that Woodward was transformed into a one-way loop around the city. The hope was it would loop around a mall or department stores and get people to these stores quickly and efficiently.
The development of department stores never happened in downtown Pontiac. Since then, there has been a shift away from big retail shopping to local restaurants and smaller retail shopping. The one thing city leaders and developers say stands in their way of that is the current design of Woodward.
“It divides the downtown, which is the front porch of the city from the neighborhoods,” said real-estate developer Bob Waun.
Waun is the owner of Dirt Reality. He owns several buildings in downtown Pontiac, including Ottawa Towers.
He is one of many working to see the Woodward loop transformed into a two-way road. He was part of similar development back in the 1990s in downtown Birmingham back when they too had a loop.
“There was a loop around downtown Birmingham that people would recall as being called ring road, and it was Willits and Brown Street, we turned that into, slowed it down, traffic-calmed it and Birmingham flourished,” said Waun.
The hope, implement that same model in Pontiac and bring people back to the city.
The population of Pontiac has seen a decline. According to the US Census Bureau, Pontiac’s population peak in the 1970s when 85,000 called Pontiac home. Now that number sits at 59,000.
However, in recent years, the city has seen economic growth, bringing back jobs and hopefully people.
“We got Amazon making a three million square foot investment and thousand of jobs, of course, United Shore, and they’re soon to be 10,000 jobs in Pontiac," Waun said. "All this has happened in the last two years, o the last piece of the puzzle getting that road fixed."
“After all these 25 years when people realized that this loop around our downtown was actually a noose,” said Mayor Deirdre Waterman.
Waterman has been working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to make the project happen. The redesign would include slower speed limits, walking and biking baths, and pedestrian crosswalks.
“We are going to be very cosmopolitan urban, walkable livable city, one that combines all that, a good place to live a good place to work a good place to play,” Waterman said.
However, not everyone in Pontiac is fully on board, including City Council President Kermit Williams. While he thinks the premise is a good idea, he is worried about the design. Especially with backlash from the bike lanes on Perry Street which he still feels is unsafe.
“I would like to see the bike lanes on Perry street taken up of course but really not only a safety study done but making sure that the frontage of the buildings that are going to be on the new loop are viable to going into downtown,” said Williams.
“Change is harder for some people than others, but that is what leadership is and that is what vision,” said Waterman. “We take the input of our citizens but we also kind of lead the way because we have access to the information, the trends the knowledge and that is what we share and as we do that I think we help others to get ready for that change.”
According to MDOT, construction is being planned for 2024. However, conversations are starting now, including talks on design.
As for economic growth, both Woodward Dream Show and Motor Bella happening this year. Woodward Dream Show will be in conjunction with the dream cruise in august and include judged shows, muscle cars, hot rods and cruisers. Motor Bella is a six-day outdoor event in late September meant to replace the North American International Auto Show. Both will be held at the M1 Concourse.