First steps toward the reconstruction of Toledo's busiest freeway interchange are under way, and next week will sever a major city street for an estimated 15 months.
At 9 a.m. Aug. 11, the Central Avenue bridge over I-75 near the former Jeep plant site will be closed for replacement with a structure designed to accommodate freeway widening underneath.
The project will shut off an artery used on an average day by about 10,000 vehicles, including city trucks at the Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor's neighboring headquarters; buses traveling to and from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority garage next door, and emergency vehicles from a fire station down the street.
Ohio Department of Transportation officials say they had no choice, because the seven-span bridge has to be removed before its five-span replacement can be built on the same spot.
"We're moving the piers. We couldn't keep it open because the new bridge and the old bridge have different elevations," said Michael Stormer, ODOT's district planning engineer in Bowling Green.
The Central bridge is one of three that Posen Construction of Shelby Township, Mich., in suburban Detroit, will replace over 25 months to make room for reconstruction of the I-75/I-475 "Jeep Split" junction and widening both freeways approaching that interchange.
Traffic studies have identified the junction, used by more than 150,000 vehicles per day, as one of Toledo's most congested and accident-prone, particularly on the single-lane ramps linking I-475 with I-75's northerly leg.
Also to be rebuilt during the $17,370,935.62 project are the Douglas Road and Auburn Avenue bridges over I-475. The Douglas span will close May 1 for five months, while the Auburn bridge will close after Central's reopens and take about 10 months to rebuild.
"Central's the most complicated of all three structures," said Dennis Charvat, the project engineer.
The Central bridge is the longest and tallest of the three and is the only one that crosses interchange ramps along with freeway lanes.
Its detour alternatives are also the most difficult of the three bridges.
ODOT tentatively has set up a detour using Upton Avenue, Monroe Street, and Detroit Avenue, but for TARTA and the streets division, that will induce many additional miles of circuitous driving each day.
Not only will the bridge closing affect TARTA's popular No. 20 bus on Central Avenue, but many buses cross the bridge between route termini and elsewhere in Toledo and its suburbs.
James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said the preferable detour for him would be to use North Cove Boulevard and Jeep Parkway to get around the closed bridge.
Those streets' one-way pattern would allow their use for a westbound detour route, but they'd have to be set up for two-way traffic to permit the opposite detour.
Barbara Jones, a senior engineer with the city transportation division, said the possibility of a North Cove-Jeep Parkway detour is under discussion with ODOT.
Mike Gramza, ODOT's district construction engineer, said the only obstacle is cost, because converting the streets to two-way traffic will require modifying curbs and traffic islands at their junction.
Discussions with Posen Construction concerning what can be done are continuing, Mr. Gramza said.
Streets Commissioner David Welch said his division likely will reroute many trucks from the Central garage through a back gate onto Albion Street. City truck traffic on other neighborhood streets, such as Delaware Avenue, is likely to increase during winter storms, he said.
"It shouldn't be that big of a deal for us, but it will be inconvenient," Mr. Welch said, adding that his personal commuting route will have to change for the project's duration.
Along with Central itself, four I-75 ramps in the Jeep Parkway/Willys Parkway interchange will be closed for most, if not all, of the bridge reconstruction. Exit ramps from northbound I-75 and eastbound I-475 to Jeep/Willys will be closed, as will be the Jeep/Willys entrances to southbound I-75 and westbound I-475.
"There is a possibility they will reopen for the winter, but we're not sure yet," Mr. Stormer said.
The closing of I-475's Jeep/Willys ramps will be, for practical purposes, a dress rehearsal for the actual freeway interchange reconstruction.
As part of that project, ODOT plans to close permanently the two ramps linking Jeep and Willys with Toledo's western beltway because their configuration does not comply with federal engineering standards, nor can they be satisfactorily realigned.
Reconstruction of I-475 between I-75 and Douglas, which will include widening the single-lane ramps connecting the freeways, is scheduled to begin in 2011 and cost $94 million. Rebuilding and widening I-75 from the junction north past the Phillips Avenue interchange is expected to cost $160 million but is unscheduled.
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