Monday, December 27, 2004

30-year-old idea gets closer to destination

Published: Sun, Dec 26, 2004

Everything is coming together for the Mahoning Valley's highway system.

The massive and long-awaited $63 million 711 Connector and related construction won't be finished until fall 2006, though some portions will open to traffic earlier.

It's a major undertaking by the Ohio Department of Transportation: A work area about 1.5 miles long across 50 acres, extending from the existing state Route 711 in Youngstown near Interstate 680 to Interstate 80 at the Girard-Liberty border.

"It is definitely a very large scope," said Jennifer Richmond, a spokeswoman at Ohio Department of Transportation District 4 in Akron.

The connector was first proposed 30 years ago.

Today, the four-lane, access-controlled divided highway is being assembled to provide north-south continuity between Interstates 680 and 80. Officials also hope the highway will spur economic development.

A huge swath of ground has been cleared and reshaped between Girard and Youngstown as the project moves ahead. ODOT said 65 structures were bought and demolished as the project took shape. Explosives were used to remove rock near Trumbull Avenue in Girard.

"The project itself is broken into two phases between Mahoning and Trumbull counties," Richmond explained. The Trumbull work started first, and most of the major construction has been done, save for some "minor work" remaining at Gypsy Lane and at I-80, she added.

The state said this big job is being done in two construction contracts to minimize traffic disruptions and to meet funding availability.

The first contract

The first contract is for $28 million. ODOT said $26 million is for the construction project and an additional $2 million was spent on mine remediation on Route 711 when abandoned underground coal mines were discovered.

This phase covered construction of the four-lane, limited-access divided highway from just north of U.S. Route 422 to I-80 and state Route 11, with an interchange at Gypsy Lane.

Shelly and Sands of Zanesville was the low bidder and is the contractor for this phase, which includes mine remediation and demolition of the 65 buildings.

Its official date to open to traffic is late fall 2005.

But traffic is already flowing along the new Sarah Street-Gypsy Lane Connector between U.S. Route 422 and Belmont Avenue.

Also, a temporary jog along I-80 where it meets Route 11 has come and gone as the bridge and road work there proceeds. I-80 is back the way it was and that jog will now become part of the ramp system at that I-80/Route 11 interchange.

"That temporary jog was a very unique maintenance scheme that saved a lot of money and a lot of heartache," Richmond noted.

The second contract

The second contract is for $35 million: $11 million for the Blue Bridge on state Route 193; and $24 million for Route 711. Great Lakes Construction Co. of Cleveland is the contractor.

The second phase includes reconstruction of the existing highway from I-680 to just north of Route 422 and reconstruction of the Blue Bridge in Youngstown.

The Blue Bridge is currently open to traffic. ODOT is reconstructing it one half at a time, allowing one lane of traffic to be maintained in each direction on the open side while crews close and assemble the other side.

The I-680 northbound ramp, however, is closed until June 2005.

Then, ODOT will switch traffic onto the new bridge, build the other half, and close the I-680 ramp from I-680 South to Route 193. This will take 300 days, the department said.

Final completion of the Blue Bridge will be in fall 2006.

When it all comes together, drivers will have quicker access to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and Forum Health's Northside Medical Center and Tod Children's Hospital, among other locations.


© 2004 A service of The Vindicator.

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