BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — An interchange at I-475 and US 20A has been in long-range plans for almost 30 years, but when it came time to figure out how to get the funding for the $102 million project, Monclova Township trustee Chuck Hoecherl heard his share of doubts.
“People said it was like herding cats, but we got the financial partners together,” he said. “It was some arm twisting, some sweet talking, cajoling and all of the above to make it happen.”
Partnerships and cooperation were recurring themes shared by those attending the June 29 groundbreaking ceremony at Dana Headquarters.
“This is a lesson in partnerships. When businesses and government get together, things get done,” said Lucas County Engineer Mike Pniewski. “Infrastructure investments mean we care about our community.”
The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) first recommended adding two interchanges and widening I-475 almost 30 years ago. About five years ago, representatives from Maumee, Monclova Township and the county began serious discussions about how to make it happen. With investments from those entities plus TMACOG, the Maumee-Monclova-Toledo Joint Economic Development Zone and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority – along with letters of support from area chambers and businesses – the Ohio Department of Transpor-tation’s Transportation Review Advisory Council awarded $79 million toward the project and planning began in earnest.
ODOT director Jack Marchbanks said the project is another success story among many in Northwest Ohio, referring to last summer’s opening of the Dorr Street interchange and the widening of I-475 between Airport and Bancroft.
With this project, the last segment of I-475 – between Airport and US 24 – will be widened to three lanes and a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) will be constructed. While similar to the DDI at US 25 in Perrysburg, this one will be a little different, said ODOT District 2 deputy director Pat McColley. Instead of using the existing bridge at US 20A, bridges will be built to the north and the south, keeping traffic on US 20A open to traffic until it can be diverted onto the new bridges, he said.
Phase one calls for bi-directional traffic in the northbound lanes of I-475 while the southbound lanes are expanded and reconstructed in 2023. In 2024, traffic will move to the new southbound lanes while work is done on the northbound side. At the same time, work will be done on the DDI and improvements will be made to the US 24 ramps.
Some ramp closures on US 24 will occur. Closures of Monclova Road during work will be limited to 70 days because of concerns about diverting emergency vehicles from McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital.
“Once it’s done, like many other interstate projects, it will be hard to imagine life without it,” McColley said. “We are trying to set this area up for success for years to come.”
With access to the airport and the growing industrial areas around US 20A, the interchange will provide a boost to economic development, he added.
“This is important. We want a free flow of people and products all throughout Northwest Ohio and connecting to Columbus,” said Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce president Wendy Gramza. “Our goal is that people and products can get all over the state, wherever the customers are.”
Maumee Mayor Rich Carr agrees. He sees the interchange as an opportunity to enhance existing and new businesses in the city.
“This will make the old Maumee Stamping plant even more valuable, with its railway and direct connection to the airport and expressway,” Carr said. “With access to water, trucking and rail – it has the potential to bring in international business.”
It will also alleviate traffic getting to and from Arrowhead Business Park – which is one of the main reasons Maumee’s daytime population doubles to 30,000.
Carr noted that cooperation with Spartan Chemical and Dana has also been essential in the process.
A portion of the interchange will be built on a corner of the 130 acres that Spartan Chemical purchased in 1995 when launching its Maumee facility. The nearly 1-million-square-foot facility employs over 200 – a workforce that stepped up to help Maumee first responders with hand sanitizer during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the interchange won’t impact Spartan’s business other than to make it easier for employees to get to work, chairman and CEO Stephen Swigart said the real benefit is in the partnership with the city.
“We’re glad that we can partner with Maumee on a project that will lead to the overall growth of the area,” he said.
Dana, which allowed ODOT access to the grounds for last week’s ceremony, has been waiting 20 years for the interchange to happen, Carr noted. Dana is allowing ODOT to place a camera on its building to provide a real-time video of the progress. It can be viewed on ODOT’s website.
With ODOT clearing trees along I-475, general contractor Kokosing was able to begin work on the project this week, making a December 2024 completion date possible.
“This is a great day,” Hoecherl said. “With this interchange, the area can continue to develop and create new jobs and safer access for residents and businesses. It’s a win-win-win.”