By Kalea Hall
The best advice for avoiding traffic congestion along U.S. Route 224 at Interstate 680 is to find a way around.
The heavy traffic congestion continued Monday morning and afternoon, caused by the $5.4 million Ohio Department of Transportation project bringing traffic down to one lane in each direction. In addition, the northbound Interstate 680 ramp can now be reached only by turning left and crossing traffic driving eastbound on 224.
Detours are not expected until some of the ramps are closed, but motorists should consider alternative routes to avoid congestion, said Justin Chesnic, ODOT District 4 spokesman.
“Usually when you have a big traffic pattern change on a big job, motorists will typically find a way around,” Chesnic said. “In this situation, there are routes like South Avenue and Midlothian Boulevard that will get you around.”
ODOT will widen the bridge over I-680, replace a culvert on 224 east of I-680 and make changes to the 224 and I-680 interchange. The project is expected to be completed by October 2014.
“What we are doing is replacing [the culvert] one half at a time. If we replaced the whole culvert, we would have to completely close 224,” Chesnic said.
Chesnic said traffic signals and timing are always looked at to see if changing them would alleviate congestion.
“The main thing is this is one of the most heavily congested areas in the Youngstown area even before the project started,” Chesnic said. “The goal is with this project, hopefully, it will ease that congestion and make it a safer route.”
There were safety concerns involving motorists blocking intersections along 224. This also caused even more of a backup. The Ohio State Highway Patrol placed signs along 224 to warn motorists not to block intersections. Drivers could be given a moving violation for blocking the intersection.
“We are just keeping our eye on it,” Sgt. Bret Henderson said.
Boardman Township police and the highway patrol are working together to stop the intersections from being blocked, but there is no directing of traffic happening at this time.
“Right now there is not a whole lot more we can do,” Henderson said. “[We will] play it by ear.”
Randy Pugh, Lane LifeTRANS ambulance vice president and chief operating officer, said Lane ambulance operators have been instructed to avoid the area as much as possible. Last week, Lane, which serves Boardman Township, developed alternate routes for operators.
“There are plenty of ways to get around” the congestion, Pugh said.
Calls to Rural Metro ambulance service were not returned Monday.
Jason Loree, Boardman Township administrator, said there isn’t much the township can do about the congestion because it is a state project.
“But because the major artery of Poland Township and Poland Village is 224, they are experiencing the backup and so are we. We get clogged all the way down to Southern Park Mall,” Loree said.
Boardman Township found out last week about the narrowing down to one lane for each direction, Loree said.
The township has not recommended any detours to motorists because it would cause the alternative roads to be affected.
“The minute you try and divert everybody to a road that may not be able to handle it at all, all it is going to do is spread the congestion out even more,” Loree said.
Poland Village Mayor Tim Sicafuse said the traffic congestion and ways to avoid it might be discussed at the next village meeting. Sicafuse was not surprised by the traffic backups. He was told over the weekend the traffic was backed up to the Poland Dairy Queen from I-680.
“We just have to work through it,” Sicafuse said.
Stephen Queen, general manager of Inner Circle in Poland, believes the congestion could be worse than it is now.
“I think [ODOT] is doing the best they can,” Queen said. “This is still the best route to take.”
The restaurant is still bringing in its crowd of customers, Queen said, and Inner Circle will remain open with regular business hours throughout the construction.
“Our customers love us so much they would army crawl to get our wings and pizza,” Queen said.