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Published: Wednesday, 5/5/2010

New turnpike plazas to tap 'green' energy resources

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WEST UNITY, Ohio - Two new Ohio Turnpike service plazas in eastern Williams County will be showcases for alternative-energy technologies that Ohio is aggressively developing, Governor Ted Strickland said during groundbreaking ceremonies yesterday afternoon.

The Indian Meadow and Tiffin River plazas, which will replace facilities closed four years ago and are scheduled to open by Memorial Day weekend of next year, partially will be powered by wind turbines and offer recharging stations for electric cars, E-85 ethanol fuel for flexible-fuel vehicles, and electrical hookups that will reduce truck idling, turnpike officials announced.

While service plazas often are viewed as "humble things," Mr. Strickland said, "they are essential to the safety and the comfort of the traveling public."

And Ohioans returning from distant travels and visitors to the state alike "will see that Ohio is becoming an advanced-energy state" when they stop at the new plazas, the governor said.

The plazas "will be an asset to our customers and to the community, providing needed jobs and 'green' initiatives at a time we are seeking to be economically prudent and environmentally conscious," L. George Distel, the turnpike's executive director, said.

And David Chester, a West Unity village councilman, said that even though many of the 220 permanent jobs at the plazas will be part-time positions, "it's going to be a big-time help" for a county that has struggled until recently with Ohio's highest unemployment rate and is still among the toughest in that category.

"It was a part of my life when I was growing up, and I'm glad it will be back in our community," Mr. Chester said.

The rebuilt plazas will cost the turnpike $29,778,640, including a $13,463,850.75 site-preparation contract with Miller Brothers Construction of Archbold; a $9.99 million general-trades contract with Rudolph-Libbe of Lake Township; $3,306,000 for plumbing, mechanical, and climate-control work by L.R. Babcock Plumbing & Heating of Napoleon, and a $3,018,789 electrical contract with Romanoff Electric of Toledo.

The Indian Meadow and Tiffin River plazas will offer several alternative-energy technologies. The Indian Meadow and Tiffin River plazas will offer several alternative-energy technologies.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The plazas that the turnpike commission closed in 2006 were among the smallest on the 241-mile toll road and were due for major septic-system upgrades in order to renew permits that expired that year.

At the time, the turnpike commission was considering replacing them and the next pair to the east, in Swanton, with a single, larger plaza pair near Delta. But the commission scrapped that plan in 2007 after experiencing difficulty securing land at its preferred sites, and officials pledged to rebuild as soon as budget would allow.

The Williams County plazas' absence, however, left a 60-mile gap between the Swanton site and the easternmost service areas on the Indiana Toll Road, and the antiquated facilities became the subject of traveler complaints.

Dan Castrigano, the turnpike's chief engineer, said the Swanton plazas will be replaced at some point, but they could be closed for a time before construction of replacements begins, as occurred in Williams County.

The soonest the Swanton plazas would close is January, 2012, Mr. Castrigano said.

The new Tiffin River and Indian Meadow plazas, named respectively for a prominent river nearby and a patch of native American agriculture that 19th-century pioneers discovered amid the Great Black Swamp, will be more than double the size of the original turnpike facilities there.

Seating capacity will increase only by about one third, however, because some of the new space will be taken up by specialized facilities, such as a truckers' lounge with showers and laundry services, a food court with a coffee shop and one or two other food-service options, and a 24-hour convenience store.

Each plaza will have 163 parking spots for automobiles and 110 for trucks, more than double the previous capacity. Four parking spaces for buses will be designated as will 10-space lots for recreational vehicles.

Truck capacity on the westbound side will grow by an additional 20 to 22 spaces soon after opening, if not right away, Mr. Castrigano said, when the electrical-hookup spots are completed. Turnpike officials are reviewing technology options for that facility, he said.

The turnpike was unable to buy the land it would need to offer electric-service spaces on the eastbound side, the chief engineer said, but "if it's successful here," similar hookup-equipped truck parking is likely to be added to the Blue Heron and Wyandot plazas in Ottawa County.

Along with the planned wind turbines, Mr. Castrigano said, the turnpike is studying solar panels now used at the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing base at Toledo Express Airport to determine if they would be suitable to supply some of its service plazas' energy needs.

Sewer and water service to the plazas, meanwhile, will be provided with new hookups to the municipal utilities in West Unity that cost the turnpike commission $1.1 million, bringing the project's total construction cost to just shy of $31 million.

Along with the full-time jobs at the plazas after they open, Governor Strickland said their construction will employ about 150 people.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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