Three years of construction are lurking to widen I-75 between Perrysburg and the north side of Findlay, but Ohio Department of Transportation officials said they expect to keep two lanes open each way during the $196.6 million campaign scheduled to start next spring.
Mike Gramza, ODOT’s district planning engineer in Bowling Green, said most of the 32 miles of widening is ready to build starting next year because department engineers had already drafted plans for rehabilitating and widening I-75’s bridges in Wood County.
The rest of the work is a relatively simple matter of adding lanes in the freeway’s median, which outside the Findlay city limits is wide enough for a new left lane in each direction.
Mr. Gramza spoke following a news conference Thursday morning in Rossford at the Ohio Turnpike’s I-75 interchange during which Todd Audet, ODOT’s district deputy director, and local dignitaries touted the safety and economic benefits of local projects included in Ohio’s six-year, $3 billion statewide construction program
The I-75 widening is the largest such project, but the program will include completing the I-475/I-75 interchange modernization in central Toledo; widening I-75 between Phillips Avenue and I-280 from four lanes to six; replacing the U.S. 20 interchange on I-475/U.S. 23 in Sylvania Township, and building the McCord Road railroad underpass in Holland.
“The widening of I-75 will strengthen intermodal links and better connect Wood County in a global economy,” said Jim Carter, president of the board of Wood County commissioners. The project also will create “a much safer highway for our citizens and our traveling public,” he said.
“What’s happening here today is the result of long-term studies that have identified the needs of this region,” said Carol Contrada, the Lucas County Commissioners’ president, who said the Wood County construction also will benefit Lucas by boosting the entire area’s transportation-based economy.
And Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said he routinely cites Toledo’s proximity to the I-75/Ohio Turnpike junction in promoting the city to business development prospects.
“That’s cash -- that’s money. That’s our economy moving back and forth right there,” Mr. Bell said, gesturing toward trucks rumbling by on I-75 and the toll road.
All of the capacity expansion planned for I-75 had been slated to start, at the soonest, late next decade because of construction-industry inflation that has eroded the buying power of Ohio and federal fuel taxes that historically have paid for highway construction.
The administration of Gov. John Kasich plans to finance its program with new turnpike bonds -- it refused to consider raising fuel taxes -- and has put the projects on a much faster track.
They still must be approved by the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, which must certify that they have a transportation “nexus” with the toll road, but Mr. Audet said he anticipates no hang-ups there.
“I just look over my shoulder, and I see the nexus,” he said during the news conference.
Adam Greenslade, the turnpike’s director of governmental affairs, said the commission likely will take up the matter initially when it meets Aug. 19, with its review potentially finished next month.
According to ODOT’s most recent traffic counts, between 45,890 and 54,320 vehicles per day use I-75 between the I-475/U.S. 23 junction in Perrysburg and the State Rt. 15/U.S. 68 interchange in Findlay, with about one third being large trucks and other commercial vehicles.
ODOT’s Bowling Green office will oversee widening between Hancock County Road 99 and the I-475/U.S. 23 junction and plans to split that work up into four construction contracts.
But to motorists, Mr. Gramza said, it will essentially be a 32-mile work zone, with traffic shifted onto the right shoulder as necessary while construction proceeds in the median -- just as ODOT did with recent I-71 widening between Columbus and Cleveland, and as the Ohio Turnpike has done with third-lane projects between Toledo and Youngstown that date back to 1996.
That means two lanes can be maintained each way most of the time, except during initial work-zone set-up, equipment repositioning, and other work that can be confined to off-peak hours.
Most of the time, the main impact on drivers will be reduction of the newly implemented 70-mph speed limit down to 60.
Widening the southernmost four miles through Findlay will start later, said Kirk Slusher, the district deputy director at ODOT’s Lima office.
That phase is expected to cost $150 million, the bulk of which will be spent on rebuilding the interchange at Routes 15/68.
Plans feature a flyover ramp to replace the sharply curving exit from southbound I-75 to 15 East/68 South that forces many large trucks to slow to a relative crawl -- and can cause those that don’t to roll over.
Through Findlay itself, Mr. Slusher said, officials don’t expect to need any new right-of-way to add lanes, but the project will require replacing the U.S. 224 bridge over I-75 and ramp work there and at State Rt. 12, because the new lanes will be built on the outside instead of the median.
The Findlay construction is currently scheduled to start in late 2016 or early 2017, but could start as much as two years earlier.
The I-75 projects in Toledo also will be done while maintaining two lanes of traffic each way most of the time, Mr. Gramza said.
While the final phase of rebuilding the I-75/I-475 junction near the old Jeep plant site and associated I-75 widening up to Phillips officially will be a separate project from widening I-75 between Phillips and I-280, the two will occur at the same time, starting in 2015 and also taking three years, he said.
That construction’s centerpiece will be a new I-75 viaduct over Berdan and Detroit avenues, the Ottawa River, and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. The half-interchange at Berdan will be eliminated and ramps at the Jeep-Willys interchange will be altered. Toledo officials are developing plans to better connect Berdan to the Jeep-Willys interchange.
Current work at the I-75/I-475 junction is scheduled to wrap up late this year, but there will be no orange-barrel relief during 2014 for I-75 drivers in Toledo. ODOT plans to use that construction season to rebuild I-75 between Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue, requiring full-time lane closings and extended ramp closings near downtown.
That project wasn’t cited at the news conference, state officials explained, because it will be funded from ODOT’s maintenance budget rather than the turnpike bonds.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.