FINDLAY

Construction plans to widen I-75 unveiled

10/29/2013
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY — For most of the 32 miles between its I-475 junction in Perrysburg and the U.S. 68 interchange in Findlay, widening I-75 will be a simple proposition. Add new lanes and left shoulders in the median, rebuild the existing lanes, and presto: brand-new, six-lane freeway.

But between U.S. 68 and the U.S. 224 interchange several miles to the north — the section where I-75 also carries State Rt. 15 — there is no median to build into, so widening will have to be done on the outside. The project also will include a massive reconstruction of the U.S. 68 ramps and those nearby on Route 68 that connect to Lima Avenue on Findlay’s south side.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials laid out their tentative plans for I-75 in Findlay on Monday afternoon at the Hancock County Engineer's Office to an invited group of local leaders. The audience included representatives of various emergency-response agencies, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ohio Highway Patrol.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bridge demolition to close I-75 exit ramp for 4 nights

Public meetings are planned closer to construction’s start, officials said.

A preliminary project to rebuild the U.S. 224 bridge over I-75, budgeted at $11.5 million, is set for next year and is expected to be mostly finished in one construction season.

It will require restricting U.S. 224 to one lane each way for most of 2014, which prompted Findlay safety officials to urge development of alternative-route plans to ease likely congestion. On two weekends, U.S. 224 will be closed altogether while the interchange ramps are used for I-75 traffic during the existing bridge’s demolition, one half at a time, to make way for its replacement.

“It’s gonna be aggressive,” said James Clark, ODOT’s district design engineer in Lima. “There are gonna be a lot of things going on, but we’re pushing to get it done in one year.”

Highway patrol Sergeant Mike Walter said that to keep trucks from congesting the interchange area, city and state officials should come up with posted alternatives.

“It’s better to detour them, because they can’t figure it out on their own,” the sergeant said, prompting Mr. Clark to urge city leaders to develop recommendations for truck detours.

Work on I-75 itself through Findlay — expected to cost about $150 million — is now scheduled to start in 2017, but could be moved up to as soon as 2015 if funding becomes available, state officials said.

Rebuilding the U.S. 68 junction, which also includes Route 15’s eastward leg toward Carey, is expected to take two years, but the overall project could run into a third construction season to put off parts of the I-75 widening that would interfere with detour routes for two ramps at Routes 68/​15 that will be closed long-term.

First to close will be the northbound I-75 exit to Routes 68/​15, which will shut down early in the project and be closed until the end of the second construction season. It’s in the way of the new flyover ramp that will lead from southbound I-75 to Routes 68/​15, a project highlight that will replace a sharply curving cloverleaf exit.

During the work’s second year, the southbound I-75 entrance from Routes 68/​15 also will be closed. The detour route for both closings will be northbound I-75 to the State Rt. 12 interchange, then return south on I-75.

The project will require no long-term closings, however, for the junction’s two busiest ramps: southbound I-75 to Routes 68/​15 and Routes 68/​15 to northbound I-75, which are part of the busiest route between the Toledo area and Columbus.

Rebuilding the junction also will include new ramps for Lima Avenue to provide direct access to I-75 and a barbell-shaped roundabout along that city street. For about four months during the project's second season, Lima will be blocked for construction at Routes 68/​15, with southbound traffic forced to turn onto that highway toward I-75 and northbound traffic detoured down to the junction of Routes 68 and 15 at the south end of Findlay's Main Street.

The nearby Harrison Street bridge over I-75 will be rebuilt too but its closing will be scheduled to avoid coinciding with the period when Lima Avenue is closed.

Eric Scheckelhoff, the district planning and engineering administrator in Lima, said two lanes will be maintained each way on I-75 during all peak travel times, but traffic could be reduced to one lane at night and on weekends. Routes 68/​15 will be reduced to one lane near Lima Avenue for the first two years of construction.

The work in Findlay will be one of five I-75 reconstruction and widening projects between that city and the I-475 junction near Perrysburg. The northernmost section will include ramp realignment at the I-475 junction similar to that planned for Routes 68/​15.

The total bill, financed primarily by Ohio Turnpike bonds, is estimated at $370 million, with work to start on sections to the north next year.

The I-75 reconstruction will be “the most important infrastructure project we’ll see in my generation,” said state Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), a meeting participant. “It’s going to drive economic development in the entire corridor.”

Mr. Sprague and Steve Wilson, Findlay’s interim chief engineer, said ODOT has done well informing the city about its plans, and the project is “something we’ve needed for a long time.”

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