FINDLAY - For nearly 29 years, with the backing of a congressional resolution, Findlay has called itself “Flag City USA.” Soon, I-75 motorists passing through town will get a big, new reminder of that designation.
When the freeway's State Rt. 12 interchange gets a $4.8 million make-over this year, the overpass will feature decorative wrought-iron railings proclaiming the Flag City USA name on both sides. The abutments, meanwhile, will include murals depicting Old Glory fluttering in a breeze.
The project will account for just a small part of $1.2 billion in road and bridge resurfacing, repair, and reconstruction projects the Ohio Department of Transportation has planned across Ohio during 2003.
The package includes more than $140 million in northwest Ohio projects, and that figure is on top of several projects continuing from past years, including the I-280 Maumee River Crossing in Toledo, Airport Highway widening in suburban Springfield Township, and a new 11.1-mile stretch of four-lane U.S. 30 between Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus.
And in Michigan, major reconstruction is scheduled to begin next month along an 81/2-mile stretch of U.S. 23 in Summerfield and Dundee townships that will restrict traffic to one lane each way for most of the year.
Robert Ruse, the Findlay safety-service director, said the distinctive appearance for the Route 12 bridges is the result of planning meetings ODOT held with city officials for the last 18 months or so. The bridges are expected to be the first of three I-75 overpasses to be rebuilt with decorative railings, stone facades, and artwork.
The city wanted the bridges to have a consistent appearance, be aesthetically pleasing, and show some community spirit, Mr. Ruse said. ODOT appears to have complied in an economical way, he said.
“They're not breaking the bank. It's a very small piece of the overall project,” Mr. Ruse said. “But it will give some aesthetics and tie into our heritage. It's good for the community.”
The Sandusky Street and U.S. 224 bridges over I-75 are scheduled for rebuilding, Mr. Ruse said, and they are planned to have decorative railings, too, along with “Welcome to Findlay” signs and abutment artwork. The signs and railings were inspired in part by a bridge over I-75 north of Cincinnati that has University of Cincinnati decorations.
Karen Young, ODOT's design-aesthetics coordinator at its Columbus headquarters, said adding decorative features to bridges benefits safety, too: research shows that breaking the monotony of long-distance travel makes drivers more alert.
“If we can do something to add color and shape without a lot of additional expense, it's well worth it,” she said.
Rhonda Pees, a spokesman at ODOT's district office in Lima, said that for one weekend in May, I-75 traffic will be detoured through the Route 12 interchange while the old overpass is torn down. There may be other daytime lane closings on I-75 during the project, she said, but efforts will be made to keep them as brief as possible.
Overall, 2003 will be a mild year for construction in the district that includes Allen, Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, and Wyandot counties, Ms. Pees said.
The Route 12 interchange reconstruction will be the district's largest new project. Smaller jobs include bridge work on I-75 south of Findlay that may require off-peak lane closings and repair work on U.S. 30 in western Van Wert County that will restrict traffic to one lane each way.
The new U.S. 30 section, meanwhile, will have minimal impacts on traffic before its opening in November. The $75 million project began in July, 2001.
The transportation department's 2003 program for its Bowling Green-based district, which includes Fulton, Henry, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, Williams, and Wood counties, also is dwarfed by the $300 million I-280 modernization in Toledo that features the $220 million Maumee River Crossing.
But along with that project and the second year of the Airport Highway (State Rt. 2) widening, numerous highway maintenance projects are planned for Ohio's northwestern corner.
Most likely to cause motorists grief are reconstruction of the State Rt. 18 interchange on I-75 in southern Wood County and bridge projects on Central and Detroit avenues in Toledo.Three nighttime resurfacing projects are planned - I-75 south of Bowling Green and near downtown Toledo, and I-475 in West Toledo and Sylvania Township.
The exact schedule for the Route 18 project remains to be determined, said Joe Rutherford, a spokesman for the Bowling Green district office. While the contractor has proposed completing work in one construction season instead of two, Mr. Rutherford said, the faster timetable could be vulnerable to weather problems.
“If they get delayed, Route 18 could end up being closed for nine or 10 months instead of four or five, and that's unacceptable,” Mr. Rutherford said. “We're still looking at the schedule, trying to find out if there is a way to get it done this year.”
The freeway resurfacing projects, worth a combined $6 million in contracts, include I-75 between U.S. 6 and Cygnet, Ohio; I-75 between Anthony Wayne Trail and I-475 in Toledo, and I-475 between I-75 and Corey Road in Toledo and Sylvania Township.
Work will start as soon as the weather is warm enough for nighttime paving, Mr. Rutherford said. The projects have been scheduled to minimize the traffic congestion they will cause, although ODOT officials cautioned motorists to expect some delays during the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. work hours.
“There should be few, if any, inconveniences” for daytime freeway commuters, he said.