City officials plan to block off a crime-ridden pedestrian tunnel under I-75 later this week, a step several neighborhood residents endorsed during a brief community meeting Monday evening.
The tunnel at Eastern Avenue, which links a small neighborhood east of the freeway with the rest of Toledo's old south end, was intended to give children from the enclave a shorter walk to school and otherwise keep it united with the rest of its neighborhood when I-75 was built decades ago.
But David Pratt, Toledo's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, told the meeting at the South End branch library that gang activity and vandalism have turned the walkway into a nuisance. By week's end, he said, gates will be welded shut, with more permanent measures to follow.
"The criminal element has taken over," Mr. Pratt said. "Trying to do upkeep and maintenance is just not feasible."
Diana Vasquez, who lives one house away from the tunnel's west portal and brought pictures of graffiti and garbage inside it, supported the plan.
"I want it closed," she said emphatically. "They're shooting, doing drugs, and my husband's truck got shot. … My 14-year-old son knows he's not allowed to go down there."
Perhaps a half-dozen others also supported the proposal, but declined to identify themselves for fear of retribution from neighborhood troublemakers.
Councilman Mike Craig said neighborhood residents approached him about the tunnel problem at the beginning of summer.
"Twenty-five years ago it was well lit and clean, and it was still scary," he said. "Now I don't think it's safe at all to walk through the tunnel."
Mr. Pratt said that by the end of next week, steel plates will be put over the tunnel's entrances. A future Ohio Department of Transportation reconstruction project on that part of I-75 will include filling in the tunnel, he said.
In addition to making the surrounding neighborhood safer and "eliminating a point of nuisance," Mr. Craig said, closing the tunnel will save the city and state the cost of upkeep.
Crews go into the tunnel once or twice a month to perform maintenance, at a typical cost of a couple hundred dollars each time. Mr. Pratt estimated that sealing the tunnel will cost his unit about $750.
"I'm sorry it's turned into what it has," Mr. Pratt said at the meeting's close. "As we all know, neighborhoods change over time."