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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Bowling Green's barrel blues to intensify

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Don Woodward, Tim Heudecker, and John Ezell pour concrete over a conduit along the side of East Wooster Street. Don Woodward, Tim Heudecker, and John Ezell pour concrete over a conduit along the side of East Wooster Street.
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BOWLING GREEN - A sign along East Wooster Street entices passing motorists to ignore the orange barrels and torn-up driveway leading to El Zarape Mexican restaurant. "It's OK to turn left," it reads.

The restaurant is one of dozens of businesses along the busy corridor between I-75 and downtown trying to keep its customers coming back while the roadway undergoes a $6 million widening project.

"It's a long drive for a few blocks," said Carlos Delgado, an employee at El Zarape. "People still find a way to get there, but they complain about it."

Road work is expected to intensify Monday.

Summer classes at Bowling Green State University ended yesterday, and in the two-week window before fall classes begin Aug. 23 Kokosing Construction will attempt to finish intersection and utility work at Alumni Drive, South College Drive, and Thurstin Avenue.

"We're going to be out of there in time for the student move-in," said Joe Rutherford, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. "The goal is to have everything opened by the end of business Aug. 17."

The massive project involves widening East Wooster to five lanes from I-75 to Mercer Road and widening and rebuilding three full lanes from Mercer to the railroad crossing near downtown.

Mr. Rutherford said the contractor is hoping to have the stretch from I-75 to Mercer opened in time for BGSU's first football game in September. The weather could alter those plans, he said, but so far the project that began in March is slightly ahead of schedule.

"We've had good weather at key times," Mr. Rutherford said.

While the whole project will not be completed until August, 2005, ODOT officials had predicted the first three months would be the hardest on businesses because that was when the south side of the road was rebuilt and widened.

Michelle Smith, manager of Barney's East, admitted it hasn't been as bad as she anticipated.

"I expected it to be worse," she said. "I just thought there would be more traffic and more accidents. I didn't expect them to maintain traffic as well as they have."

ODOT has kept one lane open in each direction, although there are no turning lanes, meaning traffic at times backs up while motorists wait to make left turns.

Ms. Smith said business at

the service station has been down, but that comes with summer break. She expects business - and traffic tie-ups - to multiply before long.

"I can't wait to see what happens when the kids come back," she said.

Classes resume Aug. 23, although students involved in some programs will begin moving in a week before that.

The National Tractor Pulling Championships, which draw thousands of people to the Wood County fairgrounds and fill local hotels, are set for Aug. 20-22.

For updates on street and parking lot closures, students and their families should consult the "Wooster Street update" link on the university's Web site: www.bgsu.edu.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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