ODOT plans major improvements to highways

More people are driving more miles, ODOT planner says.
LIBERTY -- The Ohio Department of Transportation envisions some major improvements to bring the state's highway system up to the demands of the 21st century, and the main corridors in the Mahoning Valley will be a significant beneficiary of those upgrades.
"If we can improve the efficiency of the transportation system, we can improve the business environment in Ohio," by reducing transportation costs, said Suzanne Rhodes, administrator of ODOT's office of urban and corridor planning. Transportation costs account for between 1 percent to 14 percent of retail prices, she said.
The occasion was a public meeting on ODOT's statewide Access Ohio plan for 2004 to 2030, which was attended by about 20 people Tuesday at the Liberty Township Administration Building.
"More and more people are driving more and more miles," Rhodes said. "Safety is the No. 1 priority in this plan and for ODOT," she said.
Among the states, Ohio ranks second in number of bridges behind Texas, third in value of freight, fourth in interstate highway mileage, and fifth in traffic volume, she said.
"Most of the freight is going by truck, and it's going east-west, and, frankly, it is coming right through your area," she told the audience. "We recognize your roads are all beaten up because you're carrying such heavy truck traffic," she said.
A major component of the state plan here is a $200 million effort to improve a 7.5-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from state Route 46 in Austintown to state Route 193 (Belmont Avenue) in Liberty, said Edward W. Deley Jr., an ODOT environmental coordinator.
Improvements planned there include pavement replacement, bridge rehabilitation and ramp improvements designed for safer acceleration and merging of traffic. Part of this effort now under way is reconstruction of the I-80 and state Route 46 interchange, he added.
Another project calls for replacing two two-lane bridges carrying I-80 over Meander Reservoir with two three-lane bridges and widening I-80 to three lanes in each direction from the Ohio Turnpike to Interstate 680.
ODOT gives high priority to improvement of what it calls "macro-corridors" -- main highway routes carrying the most traffic -- which constitute 3 percent of the state's highway mileage, but carry 28 percent of the traffic, Rhodes said.
"There is a commitment to rebuilding the entire interstate system between now and 2030. We are slowly making our way across the state. It was built 40 years ago. Concrete and asphalt only last so long. It was not designed to take the truck loadings that we have going on now,'' she added.
"It's a pain to be on the roads with all the trucks, and I feel like we're just trying to expand the roads, but they're just going to be filled,'' said the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, pastor of First Unitarian Church in Youngstown, who advocated expansion of mass transit.
"Public transportation requires people to walk more and bike more," to get to the bus or train. "All of that supports better health," she added.
"Something needs to be done to promote everybody riding public transportation," agreed Lark Dickstein of Youngstown.

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