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Published: Tuesday, 8/3/2004

Foes prepare to blast plans to close pike's toll-free exit

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Area business owners, economic development leaders, and state legislators are expected to protest the proposed closing of the western-most interchange on the Ohio Turnpike at State Rt. 49 in Williams County - the toll road's only toll-free exit.

About 20 organized speeches from opponents are planned for a hearing Thursday sponsored by the Turnpike Commission, said Leo Siebenaler, president of the Edon Area Economic Development Corp.

The public hearings, one scheduled from 1:30 to 4 p.m. and the other from 6 to 8:30 p.m., will be held at the Ramada Inn in Holiday City on State Rt. 15, just off the Turnpike.

Since the turnpike commission announced in April that it was eyeing the closure of the interchange people from Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan have joined the effort to fight the proposal, Mr. Siebenaler said yesterday.

He said residents remain concerned that the closure would negatively impact economic development and also increase traffic problems in other areas.

Mr. Siebenaler said he's hopeful that the opponents' statements could help to sway turnpike commission members from shutting down the interchange.

"I think it will have a tremendous impact," Mr. Siebenaler said. "There are loud voices that need to be heard."

Turnpike commission members set up the same-day hearings to discuss their reasons for considering the closure and to solicit local reaction.

Currently, the interchange allows for traffic going to or from Indiana

to use the Ohio Turnpike's western-most two miles without paying an Ohio toll.

Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director, said this 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.

Mr. Suhadolnik said commission members are aware of the local unrest to the proposal.

"I think we all understand each other's point of view," he said. "It's wonderful for them to have the interchange there. It's not wonderful for the Ohio Turnpike."

Mr. Suhadolnik said he plans to provide handouts on Thursday to explain the reasons behind the plan closure. He also intends to make a short presentation, but said he and other officials will come prepared to listen to hours of citizen testimony.

He added that officials will review all comments and are in "no hurry to make a decision" about the future of the interchange.

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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