It may be the end of the road for truckers and others who use the State Rt. 49 interchange in Williams County and its connection with U.S. 20 to avoid miles of tolls on the Ohio Turnpike.
Closing the Route 49 interchange is one of two proposals aimed at truckers that the Ohio Turnpike Commission is considering. Besides the Route 49 interchange, Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director, said yesterday that turnpike staff is studying the possibility of finding private truck-stop operators to redevelop two pairs of service plazas into full-service truck stops.
The Route 49 interchange opened in 1993 as the turnpike's only access without toll gates, allowing traffic going to or from Indiana to use the Ohio Turnpike's western-most two miles without paying an Ohio toll.
In particular, Mr. Suhadolnik said, it allows truckers intent on avoiding Ohio tolls to make a quick connection with U.S. 20, which intersects Route 49 just north of the turnpike and runs roughly parallel between there and an I-475/U.S. 23 connection in Lucas County's Sylvania Township.
"We've made it easy for trucks to go right onto the Indiana Toll Road" without paying Ohio Turnpike tolls, Mr. Suhadolnik said.
The study will start with traffic counts on the Route 49 ramps, the turnpike chief said. With traffic data in hand, he said, the turnpike will hold hearings somewhere near the interchange, probably in June or July.
When it opened, the Route 49 interchange was hailed for its potential economic development benefits in western Williams County, but so far development in the immediate surrounding area has been minimal. Previously, the Ohio Turnpike's westernmost interchange was at State Rt. 15 near Montpelier - 13 miles east of the Indiana line.
Thomas Strup, president of the Williams County commissioners, blasted the closing idea, arguing that there ought to be a less radical solution to the problem of toll-dodging trucks.
"I can't speak for my whole board, but I would be adamantly opposed to closing that interchange," Mr. Strup said yesterday. "That is an economic tool for western Williams County. Losing it could be extremely detrimental to businesses here."
The proposed truck-stop facilities would be open to all motorists, but would have repair bays and stores offering travel supplies and groceries catering to truckers. Right now, Mr. Suhadolnik said, truckers desiring those services while traveling across Ohio must exit the turnpike to find them.
Mr. Suhadolnik said he favors the service plazas closest to the Pennsylvania and Indiana borders for the truck-stop concept, though the pair near Swanton also could be considered depending on what the private sector thinks. Those three pairs are the only original service plazas remaining; the four busiest plaza pairs have been rebuilt, and reconstruction of a fifth pair is under way, all using turnpike funds.
Not only would developing on-turnpike truck stops make the road more convenient for truckers, he said, but private development would allow the turnpike to concentrate its capital resources on roadway improvements, like completing the third-lane widening project.
"We only have so much [money] to build these, so why not see if we can get the private sector to pay for them?" he said.
Toll road officials have gotten favorable responses from several major truck-stop operators they have contacted, Mr. Suhadolnik said.
"It's a very creative approach that the Ohio Turnpike is taking," said Peter Greene, the senior vice president for development and franchising at TravelCenters of America, based in Westlake, Ohio. While private firms long have operated as service vendors on turnpikes, he said, having a private company build and operate such facilities would be a first.
Long-term leases likely would be required so a private firm would have time to recoup its construction investment, Mr. Greene said. Ownership terms are among the "100 questions" that remain to be answered before the idea could go forward, Mr. Suhadolnik said, but "we've pretty much agreed we're going to go with the concept."
Contact David Patch at: