The highway will directly connect Youngstown and Girard with freeways.
By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The dusty brown concrete highway snakes through the Mahoning Valley on a sultry July morning, dotted with yellow construction vehicles and the effects of more than three decades of planning.
Behind a chorus of jackhammers, workers in green safety vests scurry like ants to get work done on the soon-to-be-complete 711 Connector.
The Ohio Department of Transportation will soon reopen state Route 711, which will extend about 3.5 miles from the Interstate 80-state Route 11 interchange in Girard to Interstate 680 north of downtown Youngstown.
Originally, Route 711, a four-lane divided highway, ended at U.S. Route 422 and Burlington Street when it was completed in the late 1960s.
The $60 million highway will open in late fall, according to Jennifer Richmond, ODOT District 4 public information officer.
Two phases of the work
The first section of the project broke ground in late 2002 at the Trumbull Avenue bridge near I-80.
"We contracted the work in two sections to two different companies," Richmond said.
Great Lakes Construction Co. of Hinckley received the first contract of $25 million. About 25 Great Lakes workers built a completely new section from I-80-Route 11 south to the Burlington Avenue bridge, with an interchange at Gypsy Lane.
"Seventy thousand cubic yards of concrete and 90,000 feet of pipe will be used for completion of the first contract," Richmond said.
Shelly & amp; Sands Inc. of Zanesville, with a $35 million contract, built Route 711 from the Burlington bridge south to I-680. The company used about 25 workers for its contract, which also included replacing multiple bridges and adding a new interchange at U.S. Route 422.
Project planning began in 1968.
"It was put on hold for many years due to financial concerns, environmental issues and public support," said Gery Noirot, ODOT District 4 construction field engineer.
Noirot oversees the project and its project engineers. He said a typical project has a Project Development Process, in which ODOT analyzes everything from roadway architectural studies to economic impact and traffic flow patterns before construction.
Will help area's economy
"The new highway will remove through-traffic from local roadways," said Paula Putnam, District 4 public information specialist. "Local through-traffic won't have to rub shoulders with long-distance drivers."
Putnam said the connector will improve access to local businesses, improving economic impact. She said residential areas will stay quiet because overburdened side roads such as state Route 193 in the heavily developed segment south of I-80 will only have to deal with local traffic.
"Traffic will become less congested," Putnam said. "It will be easier for shoppers to get to where they need to go without dealing with interstate traffic as well."
Richmond said ODOT traffic studies predict 46,800 vehicles will use the connector daily between Route 422 and I-80.
Easier downtown link
The 711 Connector will allow traffic to connect almost directly to downtown, unlike the present flow routes, where drivers now use Meridian Road as well as Routes 422 and 193 to access downtown Youngstown.
"We use computer modeling to determine and predict traffic flow," Richmond said. "We also communicated with the public before the project began through feedback and public meetings."
Once funding became available for the project in the 1990s, the department still had to clear up environmental issues before work could begin, consulting with agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which deals with waterways and rivers.
The cleanup and removal of mines hindered 711 Connector progress, Noirot said. Slag pits from nearby steel mills also had to be removed.
"We also had to get right-of-way permits and access to buy and remove housing from the area," he said.
Richmond said brutal Northeast Ohio weather did not have much of an impact on the project schedule.
"We can still work in the winter," she said. "For example, bridge work was done in heated enclosures."
Richmond said minor items such as planting trees, seeding and adding parapets to a bridge are a few things still needed to be done before the project's completion.
Noirot said the project will be completed on time. He said he was impressed with the results so far.
"The contractors and workers take pride in their work, and it shows," he said.