After years, residents can hit the open road
Officials anticipate business growth now that the connector is open.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The paving is done, the signs are up and the concrete barriers are in place -- signaling that the long-anticipated 711 Connector is finally open.
Local leaders first suggested a highway linking Girard and Youngstown in 1968. Originally, state Route 711, a four-lane divided highway, ended at U.S. Route 422 and Burlington Street when it was completed in the late 1960s.
Money wasn't available for the current project until 1999, and construction on the highway began in 2002. The total construction cost is about $60 million.
On Monday, the general public and construction crews stood with representatives of city and state government at the connector's Gypsy Lane exit for a ribbon-cutting that officially opened the highway to traffic.
The connector is three miles long and includes four new interchanges. Officials said crews will continue to do miscellaneous finishing work on the highway.
Through Youngstown, Girard and Liberty, motorists on the highway will see most of the hard work that went into the project -- such as 180 new light poles, guardrails and concrete walls. Some of the changes made to create the freeway, however, are hidden from sight.
Jennifer Richmond, Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said crews blasted 1.2 million tons of rock near the Trumbull Avenue area to lay the freeway. Some of that rock, she said, can be seen as aesthetic enhancements along the stretch of highway.
Richmond said work crews also installed 21 miles of sewer pipe. Workers also drilled 1,500 holes to fill in underground coal mines.
Representatives of Liberty and Girard say the connector will be a much-needed boost to area business.
Girard Mayor James Melfi said the connector gives Girard, Liberty and Youngstown a future to be excited about. He said it will promote regionalization in these communities.
"The 711 project will aid our Valley's existing businesses. But the potential for future business development for Youngstown, Liberty and Girard is what all of us anxiously await," he said.
Patrick Ungaro, Liberty Township administrator and longtime advocate for the highway, also said the connector will get the three communities looking at joint business ventures. He said the landscape surrounding the highway will change over the years with more businesses popping up, particularly in the Gypsy Lane area.
Now that the connector is ready, it will have to be maintained by Girard and Youngstown. Both cities signed agreements in November 1991 saying they would keep the highway open to traffic, provide financial provisions for its maintenance and keep the highway free of obstructions.
Frank Bigowsky, Girard's police chief, cautioned that police response to the connector area that falls in Girard will be difficult because the city is in fiscal emergency and his department is short-staffed. He said the highway is difficult for emergency crews to access in some areas without back-tracking against traffic.
"Anytime a car has to respond up there it is going to increase response times to other parts of the city," he said.
Bigowsky said Girard usually has only two police units on the road. He said service calls to the connector may have to be handled on an overtime basis.
The fire department may be dispatched immediately with police for accidents along the highway. He said dispatching the fire department immediately will cut down on fire unit response times in the event they are needed.
As for speed enforcement, the city has been using a camera/radar unit to catch speeders in the past several months, but officials said they are in no hurry to put the unit on the new connector. Melfi said the unit is used primarily where there have been complaints of speeding and will not be placed on the connector simply because it is a new highway.
Members of council, at a meeting Monday night, discussed the connector at length. Council will meet again 45 minutes before its next meeting to discuss the issue again. Several members of council expressed displeasure at having to maintain the road.
Councilman At Large Joe Shelby said the city does not have the additional funds to maintain the road and, he said, the city should not be expected to do so when there is no good entrance to the freeway from Girard. He said emergency and maintenance crews should not be expected to enter other jurisdictions to address concerns on the highway.
Jerry Lambert, safety services director, said city officials estimate the cost of upkeep on the city's section of the connector to possibly reach $30,000. He said the additional costs will be a strain on the financially strapped city, but officials are still in talks with Youngstown to determine who will maintain exactly what section of the road.
Lambert also said the city may not have the proper trucks to handle the job. He said the city's trucks are older and smaller than may be needed.