Detroit Metropolitan Airport is very impressive to anyone who arrives there by aircraft. Both the McNamara Terminal and the North Terminal are bright, shiny, modern, busy, welcoming, and clean. The same cannot be said for those arriving by car or once passengers leave the airport grounds and access I-94 from Merriman Road (see map below). The interchange is a boring, outdated, decrepit, pot-hole filled dodgem course that rattles one’s bones down to their very core. It certainly is NOT welcoming.
If Michigan and Detroit want to really impress national and global visitors beyond the airport terminal buildings, some serious rethinking and redesign of the I-94 and Merriman Road interchange is needed and pronto. Personally, something on the order of what was done at I-94 and Telegraph Road would be a good start, though the interchange’s modified cloverleaf design needs to go. There are so many great things about Detroit and Michigan – we need to be tooting our horn visually. This can be done via an updated highway interchange, as well as incorporating artistry, landscaping, wayfinding, and streetscaping. In addition, a passenger rail connection of some sort needs to be added to the available options.
Many major cities across the nation have developed (or are developing) some form of commuter or light rail connection to their airport. These include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Newark, New York (JFK and La Guardia), Oakland, Philadelphia, Providence, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington (National and Dulles). If Detroit wants to be a serious contender in the travel, convention, and business marketplace, rail service to Metro Airport has to be placed on the table. My suggestion would be to use the Norfolk Southern railway line that skirts the northern end of the airport. A secondary option would be to extend a light rail tram line from the AMTRAK route (a possible commuter route) connecting Ann Arbor and Dearborn.
Having traveled through major airports such as Seattle, Denver, and San Antonio over the past six months, it is clear that first impressions and convenient access are very important. While Detroit Metropolitan Airport is indeed impressive in itself, the current airport access routes to it from the north, and to a lesser extent from the south, are not even close. Now is the time for both MDOT and Wayne County Roads to team up to bring a bright, glossy shine to our state’s primary window to the world.