U.S. 24 bypass a mixed blessing

Area residents thankful for peace; businesses see drop-off in clientele

10/1/2012
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Harvey Popovich lives along the old State Route 24.
Harvey Popovich lives along the old State Route 24.

Ron Dulay was sweeping up debris from a remodeling project on his home along South River Road in Waterville Township when a jogger happened by Sunday afternoon.

"There's something we never used to see," he remarked.

But Mr. Dulay might not have been in position to notice the jogger running along what used to be U.S. 24 if a new U.S. 24 hadn't opened just over a month before.

He and his wife, Sandi, agreed that if the new road hadn't been built, taking thousands of trucks per day away from old U.S. 24, they probably wouldn't be investing in the house they've called home for the past 25 years.

"We love it," he said. "We feel like we moved. We get to sleep in, with our windows open. That's a first."

"I feel like I live in the country again," agreed Barb Kromer, who lives on old 24 a few miles away at Noward Road.

When Mrs. Kromer moved in 30 years ago, "it was a nice country road" -- before the truck traffic began building up.

U.S. 24 was "almost like a racecourse" in recent years because of vehicles passing each other on the first long straightaway west of Waterville, she said. Accidents were frequent, including a tractor-trailer that crashed into a neighbor's living room after losing control on ice, and a loose truck tire that hit her own home, narrowly missing a window.

But since the new U.S. 24 opened Aug. 29, Mrs. Kromer said, "you can have the front windows open, and you don't have to sit at the corner for 2 or 3 minutes waiting for traffic."

And Harvey Popovich said he worries less about the safety of his 13-year-old granddaughter, who lives at his home, when she gets on or off the school bus each day.

"We used to hear brakes squealing and the school bus honking, and that's all gone," said Mr. Popovich, who also remarked that Aug. 29 was the first time since he bought his house just outside Waterville nine years ago that he had slept late with open windows.

Sandi and Ron Dulay are remodeling their home along old U.S. 24, a project they say they likely wouldn't have considered if the new bypass hadn't rerouted thousands of trucks a day.
Sandi and Ron Dulay are remodeling their home along old U.S. 24, a project they say they likely wouldn't have considered if the new bypass hadn't rerouted thousands of trucks a day.

He estimated that total traffic on what is now known as South River is down by about 80 percent, while "99 percent" of the trucks are gone.

"We were not aware of how dense the traffic was" when buying the house, Mr. Popovich said, describing the traffic as "so loud you often couldn't hear yourself talk.

"We heard talk about that bypass, and it finally happened," he said.

Of course, for all the happy people along the old highway, there are also those for whom the truck traffic got a lot closer when the new U.S. 24 was finished.

Diana Huffman, who lives on Bailey Road near the expressway's interchange with State Rt. 295, said that not only is the new road's traffic noisy, but she and her neighbors may have to buy a strip of land between their homes and the Ohio Department of Transportation right-of-way that the state no longer needs now that construction is done.

"If we don't buy it, who knows what'll happen with it?" Mrs. Huffman said while taking a break from gardening in her back yard.

The 38-year Providence Township resident acknowledges new U.S. 24's convenience -- "I like the road, I use it, this is 10 minutes faster," she said -- but regrets the loss of rural quiet.

"I'm getting used to the noise, but I can't tell where it's coming from any more," Mrs. Huffman said. "I used to be able to hear people pull into the driveway, or hear when the mailman stopped. ... I just wish it wasn't my back yard, but it has to be somebody's, I guess."

A mile away on Route 295, Adam Soto said he doesn't hear much more noise from the new road, though it could increase once cornfields between it and his house are harvested.

"It's a quick way into Toledo and Maumee. I think it's a plus for a lot of people," Mr. Soto said.

But the jury is decidedly out on whether new U.S. 24 is a boon for Waterville, whose leaders pushed for the road to get truck traffic from jamming up their downtown.

New development on Waterville's northern outskirts is obvious, with State Rt. 64 being widened near the Kroger supermarket that opened several years ago near the freeway interchange and earth being moved for a new strip retail center across the street.

Downtown, Jennifer Wyse, a waitress and bartender at the Chowders 'n' Moor restaurant, said traffic is "better than it was, sure" while business seems to be about the same.

But at Koral Hamburg and Diner on Third Street, waitress Renee Rogers said the $40 in tips she used to make during a morning shift has dropped off to about $15 because business is down. And Brynn Burdo, a clerk at the Valero convenience store a block away, said sales there are down by about a fourth since new U.S. 24 opened.

"It's definitely slower and more boring," Ms. Burdo said.

Dan Guerra, a Koral customer from Northwood, said he likes how the new road speeds his commute to a painting job at Bittersweet Farms west of Whitehouse, but he goes out of his way to keep visiting the diner after work, too.

Ms. Rogers will have to hope for more patrons like Mr. Guerra to revive her tip income; she concedes the new U.S. 24's benefit.

"Getting in and out, that's nice," she said, noting that her commute from Grand Rapids, Ohio, is much easier now. "I used to absolutely hate taking that road -- I'd take River Road on the other side instead." 

Contact David Patch at:
dpatch@theblade.com
or 419-724-6094.