Editor's Note: This version corrects Derek Merrin's title to immediate past mayor.
Three years of construction that followed four decades of planning will achieve its goal this month when the new U.S. 24 expressway opens between the north side of Waterville and the Napoleon Bypass.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has tentatively set the highway's opening for Aug. 29, with the westbound lanes to open first. Officials cautioned that the schedule depends on suitable weather during the intervening time.
But the date is solid enough that the department has green-lighted a celebratory run-bike-walk on the new road for the evening of Aug. 28, with a dedication ceremony planned that day.
"That is our target," said Theresa Pollick, a department spokesman at the district office in Bowling Green. "We are extremely excited to be at this point. It's going to be a historical day. It's been a lot of hard work by many people over the years."
The $169 million Waterville-Napoleon link, the penultimate stage of a series of projects to create the Fort to Port Highway between the Toledo and Fort Wayne metro areas, will open first to westbound traffic, after which barrier walls at its westerly connection with existing U.S. 24 will be shifted to allow eastbound traffic.
Completing the tie-in at the Napoleon end will keep traffic restricted to one lane each way for about half a mile there for about two months, said Dan Meyer, the department's area engineer for its Bowling Green district.
Several local roads that have been closed to build bridges over the new highway reopened last week, including Liberty Township Road 10 in Henry County on Thursday and Providence-Neapolis-Swanton and Patton roads in Providence Township on Friday.
The new highway bypasses a twisting two-lane road along the Maumee River's north bank that has been the scene of numerous serious traffic crashes, many of them involving tractor-trailers.
The Waterville-Napoleon section is the last piece of U.S. 24 in Ohio west of the Toledo area to become a four-lane roadway, and the Indiana Department of Transportation expects to finish the last piece at its end, between Indiana Rt. 101 and an I-469 junction on the outskirts of Fort Wayne, this year.
Among those eager for the new highway to open is Napoleon Mayor Ron Behm, who said the new U.S. 24 was a major reason Spanish solar-panel manufacturer Isofoton chose Napoleon last year to build its first United States plant, which he expects to begin production in October.
"When it comes to economic development, the majority of businesses looking to expand or relocate want access to a four-lane highway," he wrote in an email interview. "That was something we couldn't offer, but now we can promote easy access to Route 69, 469, 75, and the [Ohio] Turnpike as well as the port of Toledo."
Mayor Behm said the new road also will make commuting easier for families "looking for a small-town environment" while breadwinners work in metro Toledo.
"Currently, when you travel the two-lane Route 24, if you get stuck behind a slow-moving truck, chances are good you'll be riding in a long line of traffic until you reach Napoleon or Maumee," the mayor wrote. "It could take you 40 minutes, but once the new 24 opens, I would expect a 20-minute commute which is also safer to travel."
The new highway, at 21.5 miles, will be about two miles shorter than the piece of existing U.S. 24 it will replace and it also will bypass Waterville, where lines of tractor-trailers slowly accelerating from traffic lights choke traffic during busy times of the day.
"I'm glad the completion is near. I look forward to it," said Waterville immediate past mayor Derek Merrin.
Although the safety benefit from taking traffic out of downtown should be the highway's main benefit, he said, "I hope it will help with economic development, not only for Waterville but for the entire southern region of Lucas County."
Mr. Merrin said he'll welcome the disappearance of orange construction barrels from Waterville's main road to metro Toledo too, although that won't happen right away.
After the new road's opening, contractors will have resurfacing work on the existing roadway to complete, project engineer David Geckle said. Existing U.S. 24 is to be resurfaced to a point half a mile west of Dutch Road.
Construction of a new median wall between Fallen Timbers Lane and Monclova Road, however, is scheduled to end by Labor Day weekend.
All finishing work is scheduled to end by May.
Registration forms for the Fort to Port Run/Bike/Walk event Aug. 28 are available on line from the Toledo Roadrunners Club and may be printed out and mailed in or filled out at the imathlete.com Web site.
Ten-mile and 20-mile bike rides on the new highway are to start at 6:30 p.m. that day, and a 4.2-mile road race and two-mile walk are to start at 7 p.m., with all beginning at the Kroger supermarket on State Rt. 64 near the new U.S. 24 in Waterville.
Preregistration is available through Aug. 18, with a $16 fee. Later registration will cost $20, and event T-shirts will not be guaranteed to late registrants. Refreshments will be provided. Participants may not bring in-line roller skates or skateboards, nor may dogs accompany them.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.