Up until 10 years ago, traffic flow on I-280 through Toledo was subject to the mercurial passings of Great Lakes freighters traveling up or down the Maumee River to serve upriver grain elevators and other docks.
Hundreds of times per year, I-280 traffic came to a halt so the bridge could open and allow freighters or other tall vessels to pass through. A seven-minute delay was typical, but sometimes the openings took longer.
Constant pounding from heavy trucks made the 1957-vintage drawbridge vulnerable to failures, and the ramp systems linking I-280 with city streets at either end were designed neither for the traffic volume nor the speeds that had become common by the 1960s, much less the 2000s.
As the Skyway passes its 10th birthday, state officials are planning the first round of major maintenance for the span, which has symbolized Toledo since its construction.Contractors in recent weeks have been patching and sealing the Skyway’s concrete deck. Later this year, the lighting system is to be replaced.
That all came to an end after the Ohio Department of Transportation opened the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway to traffic 10 years ago Saturday.
“People still today talk about the beautiful bridge over the Maumee,” said David Dysard, now a transportation administrator with the city of Toledo but whose first assignment as a Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments planner was to prepare a 1986 briefing on the need to replace I-280’s choke point, the Craig Memorial Bridge.
The briefing’s purpose, he said, was to summarize how much business activity the Toledo area was losing because of the Craig, which at the time was one of about a half-dozen drawbridges on the Interstate system.
Opening the Skyway was one of Toledo’s biggest civic events of the decade, featuring a four-mile road race and walk and then a motorized veterans’ parade after its dedication. Thousands turned out to participate in those events or just walk around on the bridge before it opened to traffic the following day.
Both for traffic and symbolic purposes, “I think it’s hit every one of its goals,” Mr. Dysard said.
As the Skyway passes its 10th birthday, state officials are planning the first round of major maintenance for the span that has symbolized Toledo since its construction.
Contractors in recent weeks have been patching and sealing the Skyway’s concrete deck, replacing seals around some of the deck joints, and replacing several sections of concrete pavement on I-280 leading up to the bridge.
Later this year, the lighting system in the bridge’s main tower is to be replaced. Although the current light-emitting diode arrays were expected to have a 22-year lifespan when they were installed, Mike Gramza, the planning and engineering administrator at ODOT’s district office in Bowling Green, said the new system will have more lights and be more efficient.
The new system also will be controlled from the Bowling Green office instead of from the Craig bridge, so it “will be much easier to control and monitor,” Mr. Gramza said.
To motorists, the most obvious wear-and-tear has been to the bridge’s light poles, from which the paint peeled extensively after just a few years. Mr. Gramza said those lights will soon be replaced with brushed aluminum poles that have LED heads.
“We worked with the arts commission on the design,” Mr. Gramza said.
The I-280 Veterans' Glass City Skyway bridge with its stay-cable lights fully lit in September of 2010.
Officials said when the bridge opened that its driving surface would have a 30-year lifespan, but Mr. Gramza said a deck overlay now is planned for 2020.
Overall, Mr. Gramza said, ODOT spends about $500,000 on the bridge’s annual maintenance, but believes that’s far more cost-effective than letting small repair needs become big ones.
But one problem that has occasionally cropped up on the bridge won’t be addressed: the accumulation of ice on the stays or pylon during freezing rain that then can peel off and fall, creating a traffic hazard.
“We looked at a number of options. None of them we found to work reasonably well or be of reasonable cost,” Mr. Gramza said.
Instead, he said, ODOT staff will monitor weather conditions when needed, supported by data from sensors on the bridge that track air temperature, wind, solar radiation, and other factors that would indicate when ice might become hazardous.
Falling-ice hazards have prompted partial or complete closings on the bridge six times since it opened — twice during each of its first two winters, another in 2011 while University of Toledo scientists were studying the problem, and most recently in 2015.
The UT study found that heating the stays, while effective at melting ice, was too slow and expensive, while coatings and de-icing chemicals were less satisfactory.
Although Toledoans complained for decades about the Craig, planning for what would become the Skyway began in earnest during the mid-1980s when TMACOG proclaimed a new bridge or tunnel across the Maumee River to be the area’s top transportation need.
During the ensuing decade, area planners concluded that a new high-level bridge next to the Craig — rather than a more costly tunnel or a new outer beltway with a bridge and causeway across Maumee Bay — would be the most practical option.
It then fell to state and federal leaders to come up with a plan to pay for a project that would involve the single largest construction contract in ODOT history.
The bridge would be the largest of a series of state contracts to rebuild and widen I-280 between I-75 in North Toledo and Navarre Avenue in Oregon starting in 2001.
Ballwin, Mo.-based Fru-Con Construction Corp., which won the $220 million state contract for the bridge itself, began major work in 2002 and set a Labor Day, 2005 goal for completion even though its contract gave it until 2006.
But the contractor’s aggressive timetable fell apart on the afternoon of Feb. 16, 2004, when one of two huge, mobile gantry cranes used to assemble the bridge from pre-cast concrete sections collapsed while it was being repositioned on the East Toledo approach viaduct, killing four construction workers and seriously injuring four others.
The construction disaster and a subsequent glitch with the remaining gantry crane as the contractor prepared to resume bridge assembly eight months later would result in the structure’s opening a year later than provided in the contract.
The second crane problem also forced I-280 to be closed for 13 months in North Toledo when ODOT decided that that crane could not safely be used as designed and ordered the bridge’s North Toledo approach, directly above the existing freeway, to be assembled using a different method.
A fifth construction worker would die two months before the bridge’s dedication when the construction platform upon which he worked, attached to the outside of a side wall on the North Toledo approach viaduct, separated and plunged to the ground.
All five who died — ironworkers Arden Clark II, Robert Lipinski, Michael Moreau, and Michael Phillips and Andrew Burris, a carpenter — are recognized on a memorial sculpture dedicated four years later in Tribute Park, which the city and state created next to the bridge’s East Toledo approach.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.
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