Dwain Sullivan, foreground, and Jamie Silvus cut trees and brush near West High Street and U.S. 24 west of Defiance as part of preparatory work for the 'Fort to Port' U.S. 24 highway expansion.
DEFIANCE - Saw-wielding workers have taken down the first trees to make room for the coming expansion of U.S. 24.
Work began this week and is expected take about a month, said tree-cutting contractor David Cunningham of Waterford, Ohio, a small town west of Marietta. The contract calls for his company to clear about eight acres of trees in the right-of-way by April 15.
The cutting marks the first stage of the first expansion job in the "Fort to Port" project, which will widen and upgrade sections of U.S. 24 between Toledo and near Fort Wayne, Ind.
The three-mile section where the tree-clearing has begun is between State Rts. 424 and 15 west of Defiance. The job, which should not close the highway, doesn't pose any risks beyond those inherent in the profession, Mr. Cunningham said.
"Tree-cutting is one of the most dangerous jobs of all," he said. "And working along the road, you have to be careful."
Most of the felled trees and stumps will be left where they fall - assuming they don't land on the road or in someone's driveway - until construction of the road starts, ODOT reported. Leaving them where they fall limits erosion. Mr. Cunningham's crew will remove trees cut near private homes, but the stumps will remain until the road work starts.
The tree-cutting means the much-debated project will finally begin. People have talked about it since the 1960s, and ODOT hired a commission to do a planning study in the mid-1980s, but taking action did not enter the picture until 1999, said Kirk Slusher, ODOT's District One planning administrator.
"It was generated out of a grass-roots effort from the Fort-to-Port group, and out of recognition of increased truck traffic and a concern for fatalities, head-on collisions, on U.S. 24," Mr. Slusher said.
One of the planning study's recommendations was to tackle the project in sections, and that is how the department is proceeding, Mr. Slusher added. Sections in Ohio include:
●Defiance to Napoleon, scheduled for contractor bids in October.
●State line to Defiance; scheduled for contractor bids in March, 2007.
●Napoleon to Toledo, slated to begin construction in 2008.
The advantage to that approach is that sections can be done independently.
"We also looked at the project as a whole as well, to make sure we weren't missing something," Mr. Slusher said.
The estimated cost of the U.S. 24 project in Ohio will be about $465 million, Mr. Slusher said, and includes all project costs: engineering, right-of-way/property acquisition, and construction.
In Indiana, where work on U.S. 24 will extend from State Route 101 to the Ohio line, "they are still committed to meeting us at the state line at the end of 2009," Mr. Slusher said.
The $35 million project to construct the roadway between State Rts. 424 and 15 will go out for contractor bids March 8, according to ODOT. It includes:
w●Construction of two additional westbound lanes.
w●Upgrade of the interchange at State Routes 15 and 18 to three lanes.
w●Construction of an overpass to take U.S. 24 over West High Street/Switzer Road.
w●Building a connecting road between State routes 15/18 and West High Street.
w●Replacing bridges over the Maumee and Tiffin rivers.
Traffic will be able to use the highway during the project, Mr. Slusher said.
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