FINDLAY — While there have been a few collisions as well, the most frequent cause for backups in the I-75 work zone in Findlay this year has been somewhat more mundane, an Ohio Department of Transportation official says.
“Our leading problem with backups is people running out of gas,” Robert White, the project engineer from ODOT’s district office in Lima, said Tuesday afternoon.
It should become less of an issue on Wednesday, however, when southbound I-75’s exit at U.S. 224 reopens after being closed since Oct. 10. It and the entrance ramp there are scheduled to reopen by noon.
The ramps’ reopenings are a fresh milestone in the course of I-75’s three-year, $113 million reconstruction and widening between Hancock County Road 99 and a point just south of the Harrison Street overpass southwest of Findlay.
During December’s first full week, ODOT announced Tuesday, southbound traffic that now is divided into separate lanes between Road 99 and I-75’s U.S. 68/State Rt. 15 interchange will be shifted onto the newly built southbound right and center lanes. That shift will be the last major traffic-pattern change before winter, Mr. White said.
That change will further reduce the headache from any vehicles that break down in the work zone.
Mr. White said he believes motorists who ran out of gas in the zone — a number he estimated at between six and eight recently — drove past the Hancock County Road 99 interchange north of Findlay thinking they’d be able to exit at U.S. 224 to go to any of several gas stations there.
When they couldn’t exit at U.S. 224, Mr. White said, those drivers didn’t have enough left in the tank to get to the next exit at State Rt. 12, and with no shoulders in the work zone, they blocked the southbound right lane. And with the freeway’s median wall keeping them from shifting into the left lane, anybody behind such stalled cars became trapped until help arrived.
Also during early December, the project engineer said, the southbound ramps at Routes 68 and 15 will be closed for several nights from midnight until 5 a.m. while steel beams for a new exit ramp there are erected. The beams will be for a bridge over railroad tracks that parallel I-75, but cranes to move them will have to occupy the ramps.
The new exit ramp, scheduled to open next spring, will replace a tightly curving cloverleaf ramp that requires larger vehicles to slow to a posted 20 mph and has been the scene of numerous rollovers over the years.
Just south of that junction, the Harrison Street bridge over I-75 is being rebuilt, with workers pouring its concrete side walls Tuesday. While the contractor has until mid-March to finish Harrison, Mr. White said project officials are cautiously optimistic it can reopen sooner than that.
“We’re trying to get it open by January 1, before the real bad weather hits,” he said.
So far, no major crashes have been reported in the work zone. Mr. White said the most common locations for collisions have been on the southbound side approaching the 68/15 exit and at the northbound merge point for traffic entering I-75 from Routes 68 and 15.
Winter’s cold will halt earth moving and asphalt paving until spring, but the project engineer said steel work — such as on the bridges for the exit to Routes 68 and 15 — can continue through winter, and on warmer days concrete work also is possible.
So far, Mr. White said, the project is close to a schedule that calls for all lanes to reopen by late 2019, although grass seeding and other finish work is planned to continue into 2020.
Along with the U.S. 224 ramp reopenings Wednesday, all work that might affect traffic will be suspended for the Thanksgiving weekend until 6 a.m. Monday, Mr. White said.
A 60-mph speed limit will remain in effect through the work zone, and the southbound lanes will remain split, with only the right lane having access to interchanges in Findlay.
But even with the U.S. 224 exit open again, ODOT isn’t taking any more chances with drivers running out of gas in the work zone.
“We’ve outfitted all of our inspectors with gas cans just because of that,” Mr. White said.
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.
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