In Detroit, tensions over Stellantis may rise with plan to boost truck traffic
Stellantis has been looking to increase truck traffic at its factory on Detroit’s eastside to as much as 2,484 trucks per day even as residents say there’s already too much. The potential increase was recently made public through a traffic study the automaker commissioned as part of a street redesign near the factory.
The city is denying traffic will go up, but both residents and the public authority tasked with approving the street plan are frustrated with a lack of information on specific traffic estimates and are asking the city to consider alternative plans.
Stellantis asked the City of Detroit two years ago to approve a plan for increasing the number of trucks traveling to and from a nearby warehouse on Freud Street from 468 to 2,484 per day — an increase of about 500 percent.
“There was communication between the City and Stellantis where Stellantis suggested a desire to increase truck traffic to the Freud Facility,” Ron Brundidge, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, said by email. “But the City Traffic Engineers pushed back on the idea, and the approved daily truck traffic of 468 remains the status-quo.”
Grosse Pointe Moving and Storage, a local company opposed to the plan, obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that included both a traffic study and letters between Stellantis and the city.
Taylor Lydon, owner of the Detroit-based business, says the volume of trucks would make it impossible to operate his business. His lawyer referenced figures in the study during a Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA) special session last week.
The authority decided to postpone a vote for 60 days on the $1.9 million contract to reconstruct Terminal Street, which would make it possible for trucks to pass through.
“I really can’t envision how we’d be able to continue to conduct our business,” Lydon said. “If there’s a truck queue, access to our facility is all but shut off.”
There are currently two access points to the warehouse, both off Freud Street. To reach them, trucks now regularly have to travel down Clairpointe Street adjacent to a residential area. The new entrance off Terminal Street would allow for an alternate route, which the city claims will reduce the number of trucks that have to pass homes.
The study, which Lydon shared with Outlier Media and BridgeDetroit, estimated 64 trucks an hour would pass through Terminal Street during peak hours. The engineers at Fleis & VandenBrink, the firm that conducted the study, concluded that the street would see “frequent vehicle queues.”
Stellantis spokesperson Jodi Tinson said the warehouse currently averages more than 450 trucks per day but did not provide a specific amount.
Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works Oladayo Akinyemi said by email that the numbers cited in the 2021 traffic study were “outdated and inaccurate,” and that Stellantis anticipates a maximum of 90 trucks per day at the Terminal Street entrance.
“Based on the numbers (on Terminal Street), the impact on the surrounding area would be negligible,” Akinyemi said.
He added that the city would be monitoring traffic flow to make sure it didn’t exceed 468 trucks per day.
In April, Outlier Media and BridgeDetroit observed nearly constant truck traffic to the warehouse. Over the course of six hours, reporters counted an average of 55 trucks per hour coming and going from the facility. The facility operates 24 hours a day.
Brundidge said the department has a number of ways to monitor that traffic including cameras and manual counts, and that it would do so “if we have reason to believe they are exceeding the 468 trucks per day.” The facility’s permit limiting truck numbers is in place so long as the site’s use remains the same, the city said.
Stellantis and the city have acknowledged in the past that the amount of truck traffic is excessive for residents near Jefferson Avenue.
Eastside Community Network CEO and President Donna Givens Davidson didn’t have confidence that the plan put before the DBRA would meaningfully reduce traffic along residential streets.
“It feels as though the needs of corporations are much more important than the needs of people in our community,” she said.
Givens Davidson has reasons to be skeptical of assurances from Stellantis. It’s Detroit site has repeatedly exceeded emissions standards and been ticketed by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy eight times since 2021 for pungent odors caused by the company’s failure to install necessary pollution controls when it expanded its new plant. Stellantis also said it would make sure semi-trucks headed to its factory don’t idle along residential streets, but residents report trucks continue to idle and disrupt resident access to Manz Playfield.
Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen and has been associated with increased risk of asthma.
DBRA board member Margaret DeSantis voted to postpone approval of the plan because she wanted to see more information from Stellantis and the city.
“I want clear evidence that the truck traffic off Clairpointe is going to be relieved by whatever the solution is,” DeSantis said.
Grosse Pointe Moving & Storage wants more information, too. The company has been in a legal fight with the city about a FOIA request it made earlier this year. The request asked for updated estimated truck traffic data the city has for the area. A Wayne County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that the city must hire an independent expert to review the request and the city’s available documentation.
“We maintain that the city has provided every document it has in its possession that is in response to Grosse Pointe Moving & Storage’s FOIA Request,” said Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett by email.
Givens Davidson of ECN argues that now is a good time for the city to step up on residents’ behalf. If the city is going to spend nearly $2 million to upgrade a street largely to Stellantis’ benefit, she wants more done to hold the automaker responsible for air quality violations and to build a buffer with greenery along the warehouse’s border.
“When the city is awarding money, that is when it can leverage the request to demand things that don’t always fall within its jurisdiction,” Givens Davidson said.
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