By LOU WILIN
Motorists frustrated and perplexed by the seemingly never-ending construction on Interstate 75 through Findlay can think of it in another way.
“Think about if you were to rebuild your house — while living in it — room by room,” said Kirk Slusher, District 1 deputy director for the Ohio Department of Transportation. “That’s kind of what we’re dealing with.”
“If we were able to just detour traffic, we could probably do this project in, probably, half the time,” he said.
In other words, the project might be wrapping up soon instead of carrying on for another year or more.
“But because we have to keep two lanes of traffic on I-75 open during all peak hours of traffic, it creates a lot of complications,” Slusher said.
As highway construction goes, the $114 million rebuilding of I-75 through Findlay is more complicated than most, said Chris Hughes, capital programs administrator for the state Transportation Department.
Take the interchange at U.S. 68-Ohio 15 and I-75.
“When you have ramps that tie into each other, where you don’t come up to a stop condition, that’s a complicated interchange to build” while daily traffic is racing through the area, Hughes said.
“We’re going to have essentially three levels of highway on top of each other. And to build that under traffic is fairly complicated,” Hughes said.
Complicated, like following spaghetti strands on a plate.
“You have ramps that will go under I-75 to tie in and then you have ramps that go over I-75 to tie into both Lima Avenue and (U.S. 68) and (I-75),” he said.
There is more.
“Adding the Lima Avenue interchange, with movements to I-75 and (U.S. 68-Ohio 15), that creates quite a bit of complication,” he said.
In addition, part of I-75 south of the U.S. 68-Ohio 15 interchange will be shifted a bit westward to soften the curve coming into Findlay from the south, Slusher said.
The primary contractor for the I-75 reconstruction is Beaver Excavating Co., Canton. But getting it all done is taking up to 100 workers a day from up to five different subcontractors at a time.
A total of 30 subcontractors have or will be involved, Hughes said. They install reinforcing steel, electrical work, lighting, traffic signals, steel beams for overpasses, to name a few tasks.
Those subcontractors have other projects apart from I-75 that they are working on. Their tasks and schedules have to be coordinated with other tasks and subcontractors on the I-75 project. Some steps cannot be done until others are completed.
So when plans change, multiple schedules have to be juggled, Slusher said.
To use Slusher’s home reconstruction analogy, anyone who has done a home improvement or repair project knows about encountering surprises, unforeseen challenges or hitches. Rebuilding a highway is no different.
Natural gas lines buried near Hillcrest Golf Club were not in the location that construction officials anticipated.
“Because of that, it required us to redesign some of our earthwork and ditches to accommodate those gas lines,” Hughes said.
Some area residents have made unfavorable comparisons between the Findlay project and others elsewhere. Hughes said it’s no coincidence that most of the unfavorable comparisons are made with highway projects in states to the south.
“In wintertime, a lot of those places down south, even as close as Cincinnati, they can work primarily all year round without too much limitation. You go down to Kentucky and places like that, there is no winter season that they have to adjust to,” he said. “We do.”
“There’s a period of time when most of our contractors actually go into shutdown and they don’t really do a whole lot of work because it’s too cold,” Hughes said. “There’s snow on the ground, and there’s not a lot of functional work that they can do.”
Non-winter months do not necessarily bring construction-friendly weather, either. As those studying Findlay’s flood problems and phosphorus runoff from farm fields have found, extreme rainfall occurs more frequently than decades ago. That affects highway construction, too.
“We had some very untimely rains last year. We had some flooding events,” Hughes said. “Had it rained just a couple weeks later than what it did, it might not have caused us problems, but when it did rain it was very untimely for us. So it did cause us some delay there.”
But overall, the project is progressing well, Hughes said.
“We feel like we’re on schedule now,” he said.
State transportation officials want to open I-75 north of U.S. 224 to three lanes of traffic both north and southbound by the end of this year, Slusher said. Those lanes will not have their final, smoothest surface then, but will be drivable.
Reconstruction of the Lima Avenue interchange will continue to disrupt traffic for about a year.
“Our goal at this point is to have I-75, all lanes open by the end of 2019,” Hughes said. “We do envision work will still continue into 2020. But as long as the weather cooperates and everything else, we hope to have our lanes open by the end of 2019.”
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