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Published: Saturday, 6/16/2007

Public participation played an important role in the Skyway s conception, design, development

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A rendering in 1999 offered a view of what the cable-stayed bridge concept might look. A local task force reviewed possible locations for a new Maumee River crossing and whether it should be a bridge or a tunnel. A rendering in 1999 offered a view of what the cable-stayed bridge concept might look. A local task force reviewed possible locations for a new Maumee River crossing and whether it should be a bridge or a tunnel.
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When the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments ranked Toledo s transportation project needs in a 1988 long-range master plan, doing something about I-280 s Craig Memorial Bridge over the Maumee River came up as the top priority.

It was that consensus, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) says, that got I-280 some federal planning funds three years later, which generated further momentum for the project.

"We were not getting our fair share back then" of federal highway funding, Miss Kaptur said, noting that I-70 and then U.S. 30 were built across central Ohio using mostly federal funds while the Ohio Turnpike, the north s primary east-west artery, was a self-funded toll road.

"I saw this as bringing back federal dollars to northwest Ohio that had been abdicated up until then," she said.

But rather than hand the project s further development over to state authorities, the metropolitan council kept pressing forward locally. It organized a task force of local elected officials, community activists, and other interested parties that first reviewed possible locations for a new Maumee River Crossing and whether such a facility should be a bridge or a tunnel.

Later, after the Ohio Department of Transportation s 1998 inclusion of the I-280 project in its own long-range plan with a combined state and federal funds budget of $200 million the task force reconvened and guided a public-involvement process previously unseen in Ohio.

Based on citizens comments during a series of public hearings, the task force effectively chose the type of bridge to be built and many of its aesthetic design features, and even did most of the legwork for selecting a name. Ultimate decision-making authority still rested with the Ohio Department of Transportation or, for the name, the state legislature, but in no case was a major task-force recommendation rejected, and Veterans Glass City Skyway was a composite of the two most popular choices in the task force s name-the-bridge campaign.

"I think you simply need to look at the glass in the pylon" to see that public opinion was respected in the project s design, said Mark Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. "They ve reached out. If not through a public meeting, then they called in a local organization that was expert in that particular area they were developing.

"We had more extensive public participation than any other project of its size," said Tony Reams, the metropolitan council s current president. "We have a lot of community pride in its conception, design, development, and construction. This is a bridge that truly, we ll own."

The Craig, built during the mid-1950s, was obsolete on the day it opened.

Its entrance ramps were too short to allow proper merging for vehicles entering 50 mph (or higher) traffic, and its three-pronged northbound exit to Summit and Huron streets was so treacherous that the Huron fork was soon closed.

During the mid-1990s, the ramp from northbound Summit to the southbound Craig also was shut down after a safety wall built during renovations created such poor sight lines that motorists using the ramp couldn t see mainline traffic until they got to the merge point.

As a drawbridge, it was one of just seven such structures on the entire Interstate System by the mid-1990s and of those was one of the most active for ship openings.

Jim Holzemer, who in 1988 was a Lucas County commissioner and president of the metropolitan council s board of trustees, said the decision to rank the I-280 bridge as metropolitan Toledo s No. 1 transportation concern didn t seem all that momentous at the time.

"Everybody s thinking grand thoughts" about what might benefit the area the most, he recalled.

"But we took small, incremental steps, making progress all the time, and finally it became reality. It was a marvelous political enterprise because a lot of [political] subdivisions became involved in it."

After recommending that a new crossing be built alongside existing I-280 rather than on a new alignment farther downstream or arcing across Maumee Bay on a causeway and that it should be a bridge and not a costly tunnel, the Maumee River Crossing task force went into hibernation until ODOT announced the project s funding and began soliciting public opinions about it.

The first big decision was the type of bridge. During the first of a series of meetings, project planners offered a simple box-girder bridge, a truss bridge, a suspension bridge, and a cable-stayed bridge as alternatives.

Meeting attendees quickly ruled out the first two and ended up choosing the cable-stayed option as more distinctive.

Only after that decision was made, and endorsed by ODOT, did state officials choose an engineering firm to design the structure.

Participants at subsequent hearings voiced preferences for a single, center pylon with stays radiating down to the deck; glass panels inlaid in center tower with internal lighting, and stainless-steel sheathing on the stay cables to reflect sunlight by day and deck lights by night.

Name selection for the bridge started with public balloting then was narrowed further through meeting discussion. The two most popular choices, Veterans Memorial Bridge and Glass City Skyway, were merged together by state legislators, who had final say in the naming decision.

Public participation also guided decisions to plant native shrubs and grasses along the widened I-280 north and south of the bridge and to convert vacated right-of-way beneath it into parks. The North Toledo side will have open lawns and a bike trail, while the more wide-open space in East Toledo will feature a monument honoring the project s construction workers.

"They fully and openly engaged the public," Mr. Folk said. "The public s information was gathered and weighed very seriously."

"This is truly a project of northwest Ohio that the citizens can be proud of," said Steve Nathanson, who headed the citizens task force. "We got the kind of bridge that we hoped we d get."

Other communities have used the Skyway s public-participation process as a model for their own planning.

Before the Toledo project s construction had even begun, officials from Buffalo attended one of the local meetings to see how it was being planned.

Andrea Voogd, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation s district office in Bowling Green, said her office had been contacted by officials from Maine, North Dakota, and Michigan as well.

In Detroit, a cable-stayed design will be used for a 220-foot pedestrian bridge arching across I-75 near the Ambassador Bridge, where freeway interchanges are undergoing a massive reconfiguration to take bridge traffic off neighborhood streets.

Paul Wisney, the Michigan Department of Transportation s project design manager, said that while state officials there planned for public involvement in the pedestrian bridge s design long before they heard about Toledo s bridge, they toured the Toledo construction site to get a sense of how it might turn out.

"It was kind of a confirmation that, yes, this [Detroit s bridge] is going to look good," Mr. Wisney said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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