The long-awaited Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway opened between downtown Toledo and I-280 last year, providing relief both to truckers and commuters and to North End residents whose streets the traffic formerly used.
But completion of the project that was more than 30 years in the making was virtually overshadowed last year by progress in planning for an even bigger improvement to Toledo's transportation network: a new Maumee River bridge for I-280.
After several months of public meetings, the Ohio Department of Transportation announced in late September that the new bridge will have a cable-stayed design. And last month, state officials chose the Figg Engineering Group, the Tallahassee, Fla.-based designer of the Sunshine Skyway cable-stayed bridge over Tampa Bay, to design the I-280 structure.
When the new bridge opens, scheduled for late 2003, it will replace one of the few major bottlenecks in a transportation system that is generally considered to be one of Toledo's strongest assets.
I-280 now crosses the Maumee River on the Craig Memorial Bridge, a 1950s-vintage structure that is one of just three active drawbridges on the Interstate system. Hundreds of times a year, road traffic grinds to a halt for freighters and other vessels plying the shipping channel. The Craig also has been prone to breakdowns that thwart mariners and motorists alike.
Transportation-oriented themes have been popular at meetings during which Toledo citizens have offered ideas for making the new bridge distinctive to Toledo. And for good reason: Toledo is well-situated astride national highways and railroads; its airport is strategically located for cargo distribution to many of North America's densest population centers, and its port is one of the Great Lakes' busiest.
The metropolitan area features the junction of two of the country's longest interstate highways. Detroit is a one-hour drive away, Cleveland is two, Cincinnati a bit more than three, and Pittsburgh and Chicago are each about four. Such a central location and relatively congestion-free freeways have lured many trucking companies to establish major terminals in Toledo.
Interstate 75 provides a nonstop route from Toledo south to Florida and north to Detroit and the Canadian border. In Perrysburg, that highway intersects the Ohio Turnpike, which carries Interstates 80 and 90, the two longest transcontinental interstates, across northwestern Ohio.
The main-line interstates are supplemented by the I-475 and I-280 beltways around the west and east sides of the city, respectively. U.S. 23 continues north from the western part of the I-475 beltway, providing a 45-minute route to Ann Arbor and a Detroit bypass for travelers headed to northern Michigan.
In combination with the freeway system, a grid of broad arterial avenues provides many Toledo residents with commutes of 15 minutes or fewer. The Buckeye Basin parkway, which links Cherry Street on the northern edge of downtown Toledo with I-280 just south of I-75, replaces Huron and Erie streets as a prime freeway link.
Commuters and those who want to leave the driving to others may opt for Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses. The 29-year-old agency has a dense network in Toledo and also serves Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, Maumee, Rossford, Spencer Township, and Waterville. Its routes include express buses for commuters that run from several suburban park-and-ride lots.
Except for four of its six special-service "trolley" vehicles, all of TARTA's buses are wheelchair-accessible, and a TARTA contractor operates paratransit service to supplement fixed-route service for people with special needs.
Long-distance travel options from Toledo include Greyhound Lines buses, Amtrak trains, and airline service at Toledo Express or Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County airports.
Greyhound offers frequent service to Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, with continuing routes to more distant cities.
Toledo has the busiest Amtrak station in Ohio, with more than 100,000 annual passengers using the six trains that stop here each day. Amtrak offers direct service to Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston, with connections available to more distant points.
Six passenger airlines provide 31 daily flights in and out of Toledo Express Airport. Their service links Toledo with major hub airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.
A new concourse at the airport's passenger terminal, scheduled to open next month, will make boarding the commuter planes that dominate local service much more convenient. Passengers using flights that board from the airport tarmac now must use stairways to or from their gates.
A much larger selection of flight times and destinations, including several overseas flights, is available at Detroit Metro - albeit at the price of a longer drive time (50 minutes from Central Toledo), more expensive parking, and longer walks in the terminals. A new midfield terminal for Northwest Airlines, which operates a major hub in Detroit, is under construction.
While a bit player for passengers, Toledo Express is a leader in air cargo. BAX Global, Inc., operates its main freight hub there, and Grand Aire, a cargo-charter operator, also calls the local airport home.
Toledo's docks on the Maumee River and Maumee Bay, meanwhile, handle shipments of coal, iron ore, steel, other metals, petroleum, and general cargoes. Great Lakes shipping links Toledo with scores of ports in the United States and Canada, while overseas shipments travel to and from Toledo using the St. Lawrence Seaway system.
All of the coal and iron ore handled at the docks, and some of the grain and other products, are transferred between ships and trains. The city also has several rail terminals for handling automobiles and a busy site near downtown for transferring truck trailers to and from railroad flatcars.
Toledo is served by three major freight railroads - Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation, and Canadian National. The Ann Arbor Railroad, a short line between Toledo and its namesake city in Michigan, serves several North Toledo industries, including DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Assembly plant and GM Powertrain.
Amtrak also has seized upon Toledo's advantages for handling cargo. Since late 1997, the company has developed its local traffic in printed matter, food products, and other so-called "express'' freight to the point that Toledo jockeys with Los Angeles to be the busiest cargo station on Amtrak.