After reviewing construction cost projections and other financial consequences of delay, a committee that guides Ohio's spending on major transportation projects decided that work should start next year on a new U.S. 24 west of Defiance, instead of in two phases starting in 2008.
Yesterday, the Transportation Review Advisory Council reversed its June decision to delay funding for the 23 miles of highway because of an Ohio Department of Transportation budget pinch caused by rising fuel and construction materials prices.
During the meeting, ODOT staff persuaded council members that the state's finances would be better served by borrowing money to start construction next year because delay would lead only to even higher construction costs and could also eliminate the chance for savings by awarding both construction phases to the same contractor.
"It was a matter of continuing to look at the numbers to see what was a better deal," Gordon Proctor, ODOT director and the committee's chairman, said after the meeting yesterday.
Work on U.S. 24 between the west side of Defiance and the Indiana border is once again scheduled to start next spring. The 10.7 miles between State Rt. 424 and U.S. 127 is expected to cost $86.5 million to build, while the 12.3 miles from U.S. 127 to the state line is budgeted for $91 million.
"This is a significant step in moving the U.S. 24 projects forward," Norman Redick, ODOT's deputy director at its Lima district office, said after yesterday's decision. "We are pleased to be able to advance the governor's Jobs and Progress Plan and the Fort to Port projects."
Fort to Port is the working name given decades ago to building a new U.S. 24 between metropolitan Toledo and Fort Wayne, Ind. - a highway once again scheduled to be finished five years from now at a projected cost of $460 million.
Construction began this year to widen 2.2 miles of .S. 24 between Route 424 and the Defiance bypass, a project whose $36.7 million price tag includes a bridge over the Maumee River. That section is scheduled to open by mid-2008, with the stretches west of there due to open in fall, 2009.
Between Defiance and Napoleon, the existing U.S. 24 alignment built during the 1960s will be widened, also starting next spring. East of Napoleon, a new highway is to be built to Waterville in three stages, starting at varying times in 2008 and 2009 and all scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011.