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Published: Thursday, 11/22/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Low-cost plan to solve tangle at I-475/U.S. 23

New exit lane for Central Ave. will eliminate highway ‘weave’

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nearly six years ago, an Ohio Department of Transportation consultant estimated that untangling the I-475/U.S. 23 junction in Sylvania Township, including nearby ramps to Central Avenue, would cost $151 million and probably require condemning residential property near the freeway.

But since then, ODOT planners have devised a ramp project that they say solves three quarters of the I-475/U.S. 23 split’s congestion and safety problems for less than a tenth of that price, and without expanding the freeway’s right-of-way.

The key is building a piece of roadway in the grassy area that lies between the northbound and southbound U.S. 23 lanes. The new segment would carry traffic from southbound U.S. 23 toward southbound I-475/U.S. 23, while the current southbound U.S. 23 would become the exit ramp for Central.

Traffic from westbound I-475 headed toward the Central exit would cross over to that ramp before the I-475 merge point with southbound U.S. 23, separating two streams of traffic that now weave across each other between the freeway merge point and the Central exit.

“The weave is eliminated, and we alleviate the backups on westbound I-475, too,” said Mike Stormer, the district planning engineer at ODOT’s Bowling Green office.

Backup relief is expected because the ramp realignment will allow two lanes of westbound I-475 to continue to northbound U.S. 23; the right lane now is reserved for traffic heading north. That forces motorists heading south to queue up in the left lane, causing backups that sometimes stretch several miles to Talmadge Road.

ODOT expects to start building the $12 million project in early 2014, and finish it sometime the following year.

Transportation department officials envision it as the first part of a multiphase campaign that would later include rebuilding the Central interchange and followed by widening I-475/U.S. 23 farther south. For now, ODOT only has money to re-work the southbound side of the I-475/U.S. 23 junction.

Mr. Stormer said the southbound U.S. 23 configuration should buy the transportation department 20 to 25 years before further improvements are needed there.

About 43,000 vehicles a day travel south on I-475/U.S. 23 just after the junction. That includes about 9,000 cars and trucks that enter from westbound I-475 and exit at Central Avenue. To reach the latter ramp, those vehicles must weave through about 17,000 daily vehicles that continue south from U.S. 23.

Between 2009 and 2011, 63 crashes occurred in the area between the I-475/U.S. 23 merge and the Central exit, most of them sideswipe or passing collisions, said Mike Gramza, ODOT’s district planning and engineering administrator in Bowling Green.

The weaving traffiic “creates a traffic hazard,” said Lt. Bill Bowers, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Toledo post. “Any time you have cross traffic like that at high speed, you’re asking for disaster.”

Meanwhile, 81 collisions, mostly rear-enders, occurred on westbound I-475 approaching the junction during that same period.

In its study of Toledo’s freeway system, issued in early 2007, Jacobs Associates of Pasadena, Calif., rated that junction in greatest need of improvement among roadways for which the state did not already have a project under development.

It also was the most expensive part of Jacobs’ $708 million package of recommendations, but part of its price tag was an assumption that separating traffic headed to Central would mean building a ramp outside southbound U.S. 23 and requiring expensive bridge construction to get there.

ODOT’s plan calls for two lanes of southbound U.S. 23 to diverge from just south of its current exit to eastbound I-475, then jump over the westbound of I-475 as it curves to the south.

A second new bridge will carry southbound U.S. 23 over Blossman Drive as its two lanes merge to one before combining with I-475, which also will drop from two lanes to one just before that point.

Traffic heading from westbound I-475 to Central will have a short crossover diverging from I-475’s right lane to join the ramp from southbound U.S. 23. The ramp and southbound I-475/U.S. 23 will run parallel as far as Central.

“Any way they can go ahead and increase the safety of traffic merging is a benefit for us,” Sylvania Township Fire Chief Jeff Kowalski said. “It’s a little dangerous now with the merging. We get a lot of accidents from them merging to get over from the left lane to get off at Central.”

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



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