MotorCities National Heritage Area logo

By: Robert Tate
Photos courtesy of The National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 01.04.2016

file 20160104162301 History John C Lodge Freeway
Detroit’s well-traveled John C. Lodge Freeway is named after iconic politician, John Christian Lodge who was a reporter and city editor for the Detroit Free Press from 1889-1896 before serving more than 30 years on Detroit City Council and several terms as mayor.

The freeway was named in Lodge’s honor on Jan. 20, 1953. However, this is a story about the history of the roadway which over a period of many years has served millions of motorists for their great traveling needs.

file 20160104163722 History John C Lodge Freeway
Pre-dating the construction of the Lodge and the I-94 Ford Freeway, motorists would travel the Davison Freeway which was one of the first freeways built in America. Or they would take Woodward for those traveling north and south.

During the early days, many Detroiters worked within the downtown area making it almost impossible to drive home on Woodward during rush hour. Woodward would routinely become a parking lot for commuters. Many drivers became frustrated and angry so local leaders started to investigate other thoroughfare options.

The intersection at the Edsel Ford Freeway, next to Wayne State University, was completed in 1953. However, the freeway was dedicated on November 7, 1957. During its construction in the 1950s the Lodge Freeway was forced to close at many sections of the freeway and many motorists were forced to exit at Grand River on May 1, 1953 as more miles on the Lodge would soon be completed.
file 20160104163758 History John C Lodge Freeway
The final section of the Lodge Freeway that goes downtown and under the Cobo Center was completed on Nov. 3, 1959. Off ramps from the John C. Lodge Expressway in Detroit would lead directly to a 1,000-plus car garage at the Cobo Hall Center. The new section was extended a half-mile from Third to Randolph Street.

During the 1960s, officials from the Detroit Traffic Surveillance and Control Research Project used new technology to conduct a study of 3.2 miles of traffic tie-ups. It was the first study of its kind used in the United States.

I remember being a kid and riding along with my mother as she was driving on the Lodge Freeway during the early 1960s. She would always have to exit at Meyers Road at the time because unfortunately the other part of the Freeway wasn’t finished until 1963-64. The new travel section between Greenfield and 7 Mile Road was opened on June 23, 1964. An extension to the Northwestern Highway was again proposed in 1966 to connect with the proposed I-275.

file 20160104163841 History John C Lodge Freeway
The section of Northwestern Highway under state control between the West Bloomfield Township-Farmington Hills border into Southfield was numbered M-4 in 1979. During the 1980s, the Lodge Freeway was under a massive freeway reconstruction plan that took many years of repairs and a total freeway rebuilding project to complete.

Construction of the Lodge Freeway under the Cobo Center was completed by August 17, 1989 and the rebuilding of the Lodge reopened at 3 p.m. October 14, 1987.

In conclusion, in many areas freeways have increased the attractiveness and shortened the driving time to recreational attractions such as state parks and historic centers. They have also stimulated the development of facilities serving the public leisure time.

Freeways also perform two main functions in the metropolitan areas: They separate through traffic from local traffic to relieve congestion, and they have provided rapid and convenient accessibility between different parts of the area and between one metropolitan area and another. The Lodge Freeway will always be a part of Detroit’s great history.

file 20160104163929 History John C Lodge Freeway

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. (Bibliography: National Automotive History Collection -- Vertical Files -- Freeways)

For further information on photos please visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area.

If you would like to contribute an article for the MotorCities newsletter, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 313-259-3425.