The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy on Wednesday broke ground on a greenway that will connect the city's southwest neighborhoods to the west riverfront.

When complete, the nearly mile-long Southwest Greenway will stretch along an abandoned, sub-grade rail line from Bagley Street to Jefferson Avenue. It will connect the Detroit Riverfront and future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park with Michigan Central and neighborhoods throughout Southwest Detroit.

The $8 million project is expected to be completed this fall, the conservancy said.  SmithGroup is designing the project, and Turner Construction Co. is overseeing construction.Several partners were involved in making the greenway a reality, including the City of Detroit, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, Michigan Central, Michigan Department of

Natural Resources and Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, Michigan Department of Transportation and the Walters Family Foundation, the conservancy said. "The Southwest Greenway will make it easy and fun for people living and working on the west side of Detroit to get to the Detroit Riverfront," providing a similar experience to the

Dequindre Cut, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Chair Matt Cullen, said in a release. "We are tremendously grateful for Michigan Central's partnership in this project and all of our partners for working together to make this a reality."   Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Central Innovation District is supporting the Southwest Greenway project with a $5 million gift that will help fund the trail, including the addition of WiFi and connectivity to accommodate autonomous vehicles and other technologies into the future. The Southwest Greenway will be a part of the Joe Louis Greenway, a 27.5-mile trail in Detroit that will expand connectivity and access to the riverfront. Southwest Greenway and Joe Louis Greenway are a part of 160 miles of greenways in southeast Michigan. Mary Culler, president of the Ford Motor Co. Fund, likened developing the Southwest Greenway to the "Dequindre Cut, on steroids," during a press event Wednesday at the site.  "There'll be a lot of innovative technology that will be part of this greenway because we want a future-proof it." 

It will provide public WiFi and connectivity for autonomous and driverless vehicles that could one day help people who can't walk or ride a bicycle to traverse the trail, she said. "When you start to think about autonomous vehicles and driverless vehicles, you have to have sensors on light poles, so we're getting ahead of allof that," Culler said. "Imagine someday having...a driverless, kind of low speed opportunity for people to get in to get from the southwest neighborhood down to the Detroit riverfront."

In addition to its support of the greenway construction, Ford added to the design of a mobility hub planned for the Bagley trailhead on the greenway to create a plaza with seating, bike rentals, restrooms and ground-floor retail for those using the trail.  Much of the design came as part of the partnership with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy,

Culler said. "It probably would have just been another parking location, but it's going to be a great amenity for the community." 

Assembling the property for the mile-long greenway took five years, Wallace said. The conservancy stitched together 12 different parcels from eight different owners, including Bedrock, the Salvation Army, the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership and Ford Motor Co. Most of the deals are for easements but some were fee interest or full purchases.

The city is "fortunate to have such a great partner in the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to lead much of this work, which will improve Detroiters' quality of life for generations to come," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in the release.

Coming on the heels of work on the new greenway, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy plans to break ground in May on the nearby Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park. It plans to build a final connection from the Ralph Wilson park to the riverwalk once the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. completes its work to fix the seawall next to Riverfront

Towers, Wallace said.