By JOE GORMAN
The old and new merged Wednesday as the Ohio Turnpike Commission cut the ribbon at its newest service plazas.
The commission christened the new Mahoning Valley and Glacier Hills service plazas, closing a gap of plazas near the Pennsylvania border that was more than 120 miles westbound and 93 miles eastbound.
“The Eastern Gateway to Ohio is back in business,” said commission Executive Director Rick Hodges.
Hodges said the first section of the 60-year-old turnpike was built in Mahoning County, so it was only fitting that the latest service plazas also be there.
The plazas will bring between 400 and 450 full- and part-time jobs to Springfield Township, providing a boost for the local economy, Hodges said.
“I don’t think people realize the impact of these service plazas here,” Hodges said.
The plazas have been closed since January 2011, when plans were announced to renovate them, and they were supposed to be completed last summer.
The commission, however, said it terminated the original contract because its terms were not fulfilled.
Estimates from the commission put construction costs at $31 million.
The plazas opened at 12 p.m. Tuesday for a trial run before officially opening at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, turnpike spokeswoman Lauren Hakos said.
Covelli Enterprises will also operate Panera Bread cafes on both sides of the plaza that will be open 24 hours with limited service after 11 p.m., it will also operate two Dairy Queen Grill and Chill locations beginning June 5. Sunoco supplies the gasoline.
Joe Balog, vice chairman of the turnpike commission, said the plazas are a win-win because not only do they look good, but they also efficiently provide the things travelers need on a long trip.
“The key issue besides beauty is a very functional facility, and it will serve the public,” Balog said.
Doug Hedrick, chief engineer of the commission, said having the plazas open is a welcome relief after the previous construction problems.
“It’s been a long, hard road,” Hedrick said.
Hodges said he has been coming to Youngstown for more than 30 years and has never seen the level of optimism that is here now, and he is glad the turnpike can be a part of that.
Tony Paglia, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s vice president of government and media affairs, said the plazas are placed in a crucial section of the road because people coming to do business in the Mahoning Valley will get some of their first glimpses of the area there.
Springfield Township Trustee Gerald Guterba called the ceremony a “great day” because it closed the gap between plazas on the turnpike, and for the amount of money the commission and Covelli Enterprises invested in the township.
“That means a lot,” Guterba said.
Sam Covelli, owner- operator of Covelli Enterprises, said the cafes at the new plazas are the biggest of those that Panera has on the turnpike. “These are going to be great locations,” Covelli said.