West Toledo neighborhoods near Sylvania, Berdan, and Upton avenues will be devastated if I-75 interchange ramps at Berdan are closed eight years from now as part of a state project to modernize the freeway's junction with I-475, residents said at an Ohio Department of Transportation hearing last night.
"If they close down [the ramps at] Berdan Avenue, West Toledo will become an island," said Gus County, president of the Five Points Association, who predicted blight would settle in on the area. "Over a period of time, there's going to be a great cost to the businesses along Sylvania Avenue, and to the people who live in the neighborhood."
ODOT officials offered no response to the audience of about 175 people that gathered in a classroom at the Toledo Technology Academy for the hour-long session, but said in interviews afterward that no new major issues had been introduced.
They said what they propose - which includes widening several ramps within the freeways' junction and eliminating two of six ramps at Willys Parkway along with the pair at Berdan - remains the best they can do within the constraints of federal engineering requirements.
"We have worked with the Federal Highway Administration to keep things open" as much as possible, said Mike Stormer, the transportation district traffic administrator from the Bowling Green district office.
But ODOT's persistence about the plan to close ramps led some hearing speakers to question the validity of its public-involvement process.
"I don't feel like we've actually been listened to," said Elaine Moebius, who lives off Hillcrest Avenue. "We all show up. But every time we show, up it's almost the same thing we saw the last time."
A city transportation division representative, meanwhile, outlined a letter Michael White, the city transportation commissioner, sent to ODOT last week that suggested several studies and street modifications in conjunction with the freeway project.
Among the city's proposals:
•Creating a direct, two-way connector between Berdan and Central avenues to link those arteries with the remodeled Willys interchange.
•Severing Willys just north of I-75 and diverting it to Central via Pioneer Lane, which would eliminate any potential for cut-through traffic from the remodeled interchange.
•Severing Georgia Avenue just east of Upton Avenue, which would prevent motorists using a remodeled Upton-Central interchange on I-475 from using Georgia as a shortcut to Jackman Road.
•Building a bridge on Phillips Avenue in place of a railroad crossing that is often blocked by slow-moving trains.
Gary Stookey, a senior engineer with the city, acknowledged that the last item, in particular, is unlikely to be addressed immediately by the I-75/I-475 construction project, whose cost already is forecast to exceed $200 million and which has been divided into three phases to soften its impact on ODOT's budget.
Work is scheduled to begin in 2008.
Lewis Johnson, a Luna Pier resident who professed driving through the area regularly on I-75, said the project needs to be built even if a few people would be hurt by it.
"I am so tired of playing Dodge 'em Car almost daily through there," he said. "The interstate is not for business or neighborhood access, it's made for transportation and safety."