For the first time, the Ohio Department of Transportation will continue working through the winter months as they progress on a series of a major highway improvement projects on Interstates 75 and 475.
“Going through the winter is unprecedented for this region,” said Theresa Pollick, ODOT spokeswoman. “Working in the winter involves setting bridge beams, pile driving and a lot of drainage work, but no paving. Any advantage we can get on these projects, whatever bridge work we can do, will give us an edge when we come back next season. Working over the winter just makes sense.”
The work involves four major contracts in northwest Ohio that including widening, repaving, bridge replacement and one ramp reconfiguration. Most are long overdue. Had it not been for legislation passed at the state capital allowing ODOT to put out bonds against turnpike tolls, some of the projects may have not have gotten under way for at least five years and even as far out as 2027, Pollick said.
While the most significant projects number four and are budgeted at $250 million, there are a total of 10 projects under way with a price tag of $400 million. Three more projects are set to be added in 2015.
“Essentially, our highway system is I-75 and I-475,” Pollick said. “Those were built in the ’60s and 70s. So the biggest reason we are doing a lot of this construction and reconstruction is the life cycle of the pavement. I-75 is the main corridor, one of three main corridors that go through the entire state. It’s a major interstate that goes all the way through Florida. It’s the main freight corridor through the entire east coast. We have two lanes in some areas, three lanes in some and some with four lanes. Where we have seen the issues is where we have only two lanes, which is over bridges.
“Drivers would be slowed down by the trucks because it was only two lanes. You could be stuck behind trucks, stuck at their rate of speed vs. being able to travel more fluidly, for miles.”
One project involves a 32-mi. (51 km) stretch of widening two lanes to three. It’s been divided into four separate projects to make it easier for contractors to manage.
“We have to maintain two lanes of travel at peak travel time,” Pollick said. “At night, the amount of traffic is reduced. We can restrict it to one lane. We do whatever we can to minimize any single lane restrictions. In addition, we partnered with contractors to make sure we are all on the same page to make sure the traffic would flow through this area. It’s been very effective. We also added several emergency pull offs where emergency vehicles can get access just to allow for better movement.”
Perhaps the biggest impact to traffic comes from a $31 million project in downtown Toledo where contractors are working on pavement reconstruction.
“Last year, the pavement condition was so unacceptable we had to close two lanes and get the contractors to open an asphalt plant and get in there and pave,” she said. “We had two lanes of traffic down and it caused major problems.”
A third project involves a series of bridge replacements along I-475.The bridges carry traffic over a railroad structure, a city street and a waterway and over the Ohio Turnpike and are budgeted at $30 million.
The last of the four major projects is a $14.3 million interchange reconstruction.
“That is a safety improvement to eliminate a traffic weave on I-475,” Pollick said. “We are reconfiguring a ramp to eliminate one of the major safety concerns. When you are traveling westbound on I-475 to southbound I-475/ US23, you would have two feet to get over. We’re building a new ramp that will take you directly to that outlet.”
It’s the largest amount of highway construction attempted at one time in Ohio and during the summer months provides jobs for more than 1,000 workers. The biggest challenge, according to district construction engineer Dennis Charvat, is maintaining traffic flow.
“That’s the difficulty for ODOT,” Charvat said. “For contractors, the challenges are scheduling equipment and manpower. This is more construction than we’ve ever done in this area. We’re putting a strain on equipment and manpower in the area. Right now we hear contractors need 50 dump trucks in a day and can only get 20. With the recession, no one was increasing equipment. We heard some issues also with a shortage of cement.”
ODOT has worked hard to make sure everyone is working together, particularly on the 32-mi. (51 km) stretch involving four different contractors.
“We had a partnering meeting,” he said. “We got together with the contractors, the emergency responders, the state and public safety and local officials. Bowling Green State University sits right in this area. They have football games, major fairs. We had to address that, too. We make sure the contractors continue to talk to each other. The public doesn’t realize it’s four different projects. The contractors have to work seamlessly together. That was unique in itself. We discussed common issues, common goals, solutions.”
ODOT also has worked to make sure the local media has access to all the pertinent information and has involved them in getting its message out to the public, Pollick said.
“We saying OK, we’ve got this project going on and we’re really pushing our message of safety. We’re constantly changing our processes to adapt to how the public is reacting. It’s a lot to deal with when driving through the work zones. We’ve got a couple of safety videos to try to promote the safety of our workers. It definitely has helped this area and others around the state. It’s a unique solution.”
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