Work begins this month to replace the failing Stadium Boulevard bridges–and thanks to a quick change of plans, the city will pay only a fraction of the estimated $23 million price tag. Homayoon Pirooz, who heads the city’s project management unit, says that they’d originally planned to do the bridges as part of a larger project to rebuild East Stadium all the way east to Main Street. But then the Obama administration’s stimulus package passed in early 2009, making hundreds of millions of dollars available for “shovel-ready” projects. “There was no way that we could make that entire stretch of the road and the bridges shovel ready,” says Pirooz. “That’s when we said we’re going to do the two bridges only.”

The stadium’s owner is contributing nothing–in fact, says Pirooz, the city is paying the U-M more than $1 million for easements and grading permits. But city council’s decision to spend $2.6 million designing the bridges paid off big time: because they were “shovel ready,” the city was able to land nearly $14 million in “TIGER II” stimulus funds, and $3 million more from the state.

The downside is long detours. “We’ll close E. Stadium Boulevard between S. Main Street and S. Industrial Highway on Monday, November 28,” Pirooz emails. “We’ll also close S. State in the vicinity of E. Stadium Boulevard from November 28 until December 13, 2011, to demolish the old bridge over S. State Street and install sanitary and storm sewers as well.”

East Stadium won’t reopen till December 2012. For the next year, east-west traffic will be detoured more than a mile south to Eisenhower Parkway.