By Lee Murray
Representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation met with residents and public officials at Girard City Hall to discuss a $100 million road-widening and bridge-replacement project that will begin in summer 2015.
ODOT laid out its plans Thursday evening to widen about six miles of Interstate 80, a stretch between the Interstate 680 interchange in Austintown to the Belmont Avenue exit in Girard.
“It’s a midway point between Chicago and New York, and it’s the second-largest, truck-traffic area in the state,” said Justin Chesnic, public information officer at ODOT. “It’s a pretty congested area.”
There are stretches of I-80 that are not designed for high volumes of truck traffic, Chesnic said, adding that the sections of two-lane highway cause congestion and hazards.
Chesnic said the proposed I-80 changes will make the highway “safer and less congested.”
The project will also include two replacement bridges over railroads just west of State Street in Girard, and the erection of noise walls for communities in Girard and Austintown that are immediately adjacent to the interstate.
“The vast majority [of residents] want a noise wall,” said Edward Deley Jr., ODOT’s environmental coordinator. He said ODOT recently surveyed homes that were affected, and residents selected their preference for a color and texture of the proposed wall.
Deley said ODOT is required by the federal government to analyze noise as part of any major widening project. Tests showed the neighborhoods in Austintown and Girard that are situated next to the interstate would benefit from a noise wall, and the cost analysis — the cost of the wall must be less than $35,000 to construct per affected home — was favorable, too, he said.
Brent Kovacs, also of ODOT, said that two lanes would remain open on I-80 for the duration of the project, which is expected to last two to three years.
Ramp closures will be confirmed once construction begins.
Mayor James Melfi said that with construction projects comes income-tax dollars, and the city could expect a substantial amount of income while work is ongoing.
“We’re talking quite a bit of money,” Melfi said.
“We could be pushing a million dollars during this construction period.”
Melfi said the noise wall will be a good project for homes located near the interstate.
“I grew up on Morris Avenue, so I’m quite familiar with the nuisance that one of the busiest highways in America brings to a neighborhood,” Melfi said, adding that the wall, road work, and bridge replacements are all positive changes for the city.
“It makes the city better,” the mayor said.
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