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Published: Monday, 12/4/2006

Highway ramp plan to undergo discussion

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

City councilman Frank Szollosi vowed in January to oppose any plan for rebuilding the I-75/I-475 interchange in central Toledo that includes eliminating ramps to or from local streets.

He s now hoping a new administration in Columbus is more receptive to that idea than the current one.

An environmental assessment of the interchange project, prepared by an Ohio Department of Transportation consultant and adopted by the state in October, gives no consideration to maintaining both the full interchange at Willys Parkway and the half-interchange at Berdan Avenue on I-75, less than half a mile apart.

The reason is simple, according to Mike Ligibel, the planning administrator and acting district deputy director at ODOT s Bowling Green office: federal design standards preclude keeping interchanges so close to each other if the highway is significantly modified.

Project-related reconfiguring of the Willys interchange also would eliminate ramps linking Willys with I-475. That would force motorists traveling between the Five Points business district and I-475 to choose between the Phillips Avenue interchange on I-75 or a consolidated Central Avenue/Upton Avenue interchange on I-475.

Five Points merchants fear that customers will choose to go elsewhere instead, while other neighborhood interests worry about increased traffic on local streets including Central, Upton, Berdan, and Sylvania avenues.

A hearing on the ODOT proposal is scheduled for Wednesday evening at the Toledo Technology Academy the former DeVilbiss High School on Upton just north of I-475. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with a formal ODOT presentation at 6:30.

The project s purpose is to eliminate weaving traffic patterns in and near the I-75/I-475 junction and to widen two critical ramps that now have just one lane each: from southbound I-75 to westbound I-475, and from eastbound I-475 to northbound I-75.

Construction costs are expected to exceed $200 million, and state officials plan to use a heavy dose of federal highway money in that budget. But federal funds are accompanied by federal design standards.

Mr. Ligibel said the Federal Highway Administration still would prefer a reconstruction that would eliminate all interchange ramps within one mile of the I-75/I-475 junction. Such full compliance with design standards would require removing, rather than replacing, the existing ramps at Central and Jackman on I-475 and closing all I-75 ramps between I-475 and Phillips.

We told them long ago that was not acceptable, and they ve agreed to a compromise, he said, in which access to Central and Upton along I-475 is moved west to a new connector street between the two and most Willys ramps stay open.

But that solution doesn t satisfy Mr. Szollosi, who said he plans to write a letter to Gov.-elect Ted Strickland to plead for a reconsideration.

With the kind of impact that this could have on neighbors and businesses, I would hope he would have a fresh look at it, said the councilman, who spoke in opposition to the ramp-closing plan during the last project hearing on Jan. 25.

Mr. Ligibel said the only way to keep all the ramps is to forsake the construction project entirely, but Mr. Szollosi said he hopes fresh eyes can produce a better alternative.

Even if the ramp-closing debate isn t resolved in Five Points favor, that construction will happen later than previously forecast because of rising cost projections.

While work on the low-controversy I-475 portion of the project is scheduled to begin by early 2009, the I-75 section has been pushed back to 2014 for financial reasons, Mr. Ligibel said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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