MAHONING VALLEY ODOT changes plans for span across I-80

The road will get new bridges and added lanes.
RAVENNA -- The Ohio Department of Transportation has decided to build two new bridges to carry Interstate 80 across the Meander Reservoir.
Each of the new bridges will have three 12-foot-wide lanes for traffic, a 10-foot-wide inside shoulder and a 12-foot-wide outside shoulder, said Mohamed Darwish, ODOT District 4 deputy director.
He added that the new bridges also will each have a spill container to prevent any spilled chemicals from seeping into the reservoir, which provides about 300,000 people with water.
The new bridges will replace the twin two-lane bridges on I-80 that now cross the reservoir.
Causeway scrapped
ODOT officials decided Thursday morning to move ahead with the bridge plan. The plan replaces a proposal to build a causeway across the reservoir.
That proposal was scrapped last month after ODOT learned it would cost $22 million more than expected.
"A bridge is conventional. We build bridges every day," Darwish said.
The estimated cost of the causeway project jumped from $53 million to $75 million after ODOT determined how much rock would be needed for the causeway base.
"ODOT's just proving that they don't know what's happening from one day to the next," said Austintown Fire Chief Andrew Frost.
Frost and other local emergency officials have criticized ODOT for not planning to build access lanes for emergency vehicles on the crossing. They're worried that a major accident could block access to the crossing and delay their efforts to clean up chemical spills.
Darwish, however, said local officials would have to pay to build and maintain the access roads. The cost of building the roads on the causeway was estimated at $2 million.
Plan to widen
As part of the bridge project, ODOT also plans to resurface and widen I-80 to three lanes between the Ohio Turnpike and state Route 46 interchanges.
The total estimated cost of the project is $85 million. Work is slated to begin in 2005.
Darwish noted that ODOT will talk to local officials about the bridge plan in the near future.
Frost said Darwish told him he would consult with local officials before deciding on the new crossing.
Source of funding
The project is among those selected for funding by the state Transportation Review Advisory Council, which reviews "major new projects" that cost at least $5 million each. ODOT administers the projects.
ODOT Director Gordon Proctor recently announced that the council will have $250 million to allocate for projects slated to be constructed each fiscal year from 2005 to 2008. The money will come from the 6-cent increase in the state gas tax approved by the state legislature in March.
Darwish had said that if ODOT's funding were cut, the department would shelve projects selected by the council.
After the gas tax increase was approved, Darwish said ODOT would not have to shelve the projects.
"Everything is back on schedule," he said.