By Peter H. Milliken
“Safety in Construction Work Zones” was the theme of the annual Ohio Department of Transportation construction kickoff news conference conducted amid a large, long-term interstate-widening project.
The event occurred Friday at the closed U.S. Route 422 entrance ramp to Interstate 80 westbound, which is expected to remain closed through December.
This and other ramp closures are part of a three-year, $102.2 million project to widen I-80 from four to six lanes between state Route 46 in Austintown and state Route 193 (Belmont Avenue) in Liberty Township.
“Our No. 1 issue that we have through this work zone is really speed. People are driving too fast,” said Anthony Urankar, ODOT’s District 4 deputy director.
The speed limit in the construction zone is 55 mph.
“We want the men and women who work behind the zones to come home safely on a daily basis,” he said, adding that next week is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week.
“The biggest problem that we see is a lack of patience” among motorists, said Lt. Brian Holt, commander of the Warren post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
“We do practice a zero-tolerance policy when we observe traffic violations within an active construction zone,” he added.
To accommodate the widening project, the ramp from I-80 eastbound to U.S. Route 422 is closed through July; and the ramp from state Route 11 southbound to I-80 eastbound will remain closed through December.
All three ramps closed last July.
The project, which began in June 2015 and is scheduled to end in September 2018, includes the widening and replacement of six bridges on I-80.
Work to be performed this year includes completion of the widening of I-80 eastbound and the start of widening of I-80 westbound, including replacement of the westbound bridges just west of U.S. Route 422.
At least two lanes of traffic in each direction will be maintained during construction on this section of the 2,900-mile transcontinental interstate highway during peak travel times, ODOT said.
Ramps that will be closed from May to December are: I-80 eastbound to state Route 11 northbound; and state Route 11 northbound to I-80 eastbound, said Joe Alfano, ODOT’s Mahoning and Trumbull counties area construction engineer.
The I-80 westbound ramp to state Route 11 northbound will close for 90 days beginning in mid-May; and the I-80 westbound ramp to U.S. Route 422 will close for 30 days starting in June or July, he said.
The state Route 11 southbound to I-80 westbound ramp will close for 60 days sometime this year, he added.
By year’s end, the final traffic pattern of three lanes in each direction should be in effect, with no more ramp closures, he said.
Next year’s work will consist of final paving, topsoil and mulch installation and seeding, pavement striping, and sound-barrier wall, sign and light tower installation and cleanup, Alfano said.
Samantha Bokros, manager of the Shell gasoline station at the entrance ramp from U.S. Route 422 to I-80 westbound, said fuel sales there plummeted from about 100,000 gallons a month to about 55,000 gallons a month after the ramp closings began at that intersection.
Before the ramps closed, the station did more business with out-of-state motorists using I-80 than with local residents, but now, almost all its business comes from local residents, she said.
“It’s a really big inconvenience,” she said of the ramp closings. “Pretty much, the only reason we’re in business is because of the local people,” she said.
The 2017 ODOT construction program totals $189.1 million in active and forthcoming projects in Mahoning and Trumbull counties combined.
ODOT will invest $2.3 billion this year in the state’s roads and bridges, just shy of the record $2.4 billion it invested in 2014 and 2015.
This construction season features 1,098 projects, with workers paving 6,945 road miles and repairing or replacing 1,281 bridges, ODOT said.