BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With the land cleared, utilities moved and stakes placed to mark the area, the I-475/US 23 widening and US 20A interchange project is about to become a reality after more than two decades of expectation.
The project goes out to bid at the end of April and will be awarded on May 9, said Ohio Department of Transportation spokesperson Kelsie Hoagland. The final cost is expected to be over $100 million.
“Construction may begin as soon as June, but it may be July when crews actually mobilize,” Hoagland said.
The maintenance of traffic for the widening of I-475 is what drivers will notice first. The northbound lanes will host bi-directional traffic – two lanes in each direction with the assistance of some temporary pavement to accommodate the proper width – while the southbound lanes are widened to three lanes. This will take most of 2023. The same process will be repeated to widen the northbound lanes in 2024.
Work on the diverging diamond interchange will begin this summer and include the construction of two new bridges rather than incorporating the existing bridge. This will help maintain traffic flow on US 20A for most of the project, although two short-term closures will be allowed. Monclova Road will be closed for a total of 70 days eastbound and 90 days in both directions to construct a new I-475 bridge overhead. Ramp closures at the I-475/US 24 interchange are also expected.
“As with any construction project, there will be minor delays and inconveniences,” said Monclova township trustee Chuck Hoecherl. “Our first responders have already mapped out alternative routes to St. Luke’s and to cover the Lakeside apartments.”
The temporary disruption to traffic is worth the payoff, which will include reduced traffic congestion on Salisbury Road, improved drive times and the stimulation of economic growth.
The traffic payoff should be obvious as soon as the interchange opens.
“This is especially important during the morning and evening drive times as employees come and go to Dana, Service Spring and businesses on Briarfield Boulevard,” Hoecherl said.
“The biggest change that we at Dana expect to see is improved access to our world headquarters campus for employees and customers traveling from the north,” said Jeff Cole, Dana senior director of corporation communications. “We have many customers in metro Detroit, and this will make their drive shorter.”
Cole was among more than a dozen stakeholders who wrote letters to ODOT director Jack Marchbanks in 2019, urging support for the construction of the interchange. In 2003, Dana built its headquarters in Triad Business Park, believing that a new interchange would be going in soon.
Moving the project from an idea to reality took 25 years and many agencies, said Dave Gedeon, vice president of transportation for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Gover-nments (TMACOG). A broad study of highways in the area showed a need for additional interchanges on the western portion of I-475 to alleviate congestion on the interstate and its existing interchanges. TMACOG assisted with some of the early coordination and planning, including studies of the expressway needs. Even-tually, Dorr Street and US 20A became apparent as the best options.
When ODOT was applying for funds from the Transportation Review Advisory Committee for the US 20A interchange in 2019, TMACOG coordinated with area municipalities and companies to provide letters of support and funding commitments.
As a result, the project garnered $79 million in funding from TRAC and $20 million in funds from TMACOG, Lucas County, Maumee, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Lucas County Transportation Improvement District, Monclova Township, the Maumee/Monclova/Toledo Joint Economic Development Zone and grants.
“This shows that when local governments work together, and all have skin in the game, a greater good can be accomplished,” Hoecherl said. “In addition to these financial partners, by increasing access, this project will also benefit the village of Whitehouse, Waterville, Swanton Township and other portions of western Lucas County.”
US 20A will provide a vital link between I-475 and Toledo Express airport. For carriers, access to the airport from I-475 is currently limited to Airport Highway and the Ohio Turnpike, and carriers often steer away from toll roads, Gedeon said.
“This is important as a back door to the airport for the cargo service,” Gedeon said. “Having the direct route will be huge for the airport.”
Tron Air and Pinnacle Logistics are among the cargo companies utilizing the airport, said Joe Cappel, vice president of business development for the Port Authority. Pinnacle handles Amazon’s air cargo, utilizing a building at Two Air Cargo Parkway in Swanton Township. As more people rely on having goods delivered, Cappel said he sees growth in the future of Amazon’s air cargo operation at Toledo Express.
The interchange will benefit not just the businesses at the airport or near Briarfield – such as Crown Lift and Allemuir – but also anyone along the US 20A corridor.
“Other companies may make site selection decisions based on convenience to the highway,” Cappel said. “Certainly, it’s a positive. Anytime you can move people and freight through a region, it’s a good thing. It attracts people to the region.”
Several parcels are being marketed for sale or lease along US 20A on both sides of the highway. Miller Diversified has listed the 4.41 acres of land right next to the interchange at the northeast corner of Briarfield and US 20A. Down the road near the Strayer Road intersection, Joe Swolsky of Prime Realty has the old Ziegler Farm property on the market. While it was originally planned for a retail development years ago, Swolsky sees it as a site for a collision repair or automotive repair center, for example.
“I don’t think it will be retail because there’s already so much on US 24 and Airport Highway and Salisbury,” Swolsky said.
In business for almost 50 years, Swolsky has been listening to talk of both a Dorr Street and US 20A interchange for decades. Both will bring development around those areas, he predicts.
As commercial realtors promote the properties, traffic counts are a selling point. Currently, I-475 sees 61,800 vehicles a day north of US 20A and 70,000 a day south of US 20A, Gedeon said.
“The traffic depends on how much additional development goes in on 20A. We anticipate because of the highway access around the interchange, we will see more traffic. At the same time, the third lanes will be added to I-475 and that will accommodate the traffic,” he said.
On US 20A, an average of 7,000 cars a day pass by Albon Road and 5,100 cars a day reach SR 295. Those numbers are likely to increase with the new interchange. That’s a selling point for those who want more visibility.