Ohio DOT Reconstructs I-75 in Hancock County
Raising the Standards: Ohio DOT Upgrades 60-Year-Old Section of I-75 to Fit Commuter Needs
A significant chunk of the network of interstate highways was the result of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act. As states across the country access their infrastructure, many are looking at roads that are 60 years old, and upgrades are required. Some factors making this upgrade necessary are growing population, more vehicles on the road, and raised speed limits. It was these two factors that helped the state of Ohio to determine that a 5-mile stretch of I-75 needed to be reconstructed and widened.
The pavement and bridges on this section of I-75, which is part of Hancock County and runs through Findlay, are near the end of their life expectancy. The existing ramps are short, the shoulders are narrow, and the volume of traffic has increased beyond what the roadway was originally designed to accommodate.
Upon assessing the area, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) determined a full reconstruction was necessary. “When we do that, we look at the design year and conditions and ensure the roads are up to current design standards,” says Chris Hughes, ODOT District Deputy Director. Hughes who has been involved in the project since its inception in various capacities says, “Through the design process, we saw deficiencies which necessitated an extra lane and geometric improvements.”
Those geometric improvements involve easing tight curves by lengthening them or making them more gradual. Hughes sees this as a significant safety improvement. “This section of the highway is a high crash area. We expect that with the completion of this project the crash numbers will come down in terms of overall numbers as well as severity.”
Multiple Functions and Construction Challenges
The project includes a number of tasks, including adding an additional travel lane in both the northbound and southbound direction along I-75 within the project area making this stretch of road six lanes. There will be a replacement of an overpass and 10 bridges. Two interchanges are being redesigned and reconstructed, a service road is being added through part of area, and noise walls are being added along stretches of the interstate.
The project, which began in March 2017, is expected to be complete in the fall of 2020. Originally expected to be complete by the end of spring 2020, weather issues – the area has experienced an enormous amount of rain from fall of 2018 through the early spring of 2019 – have pushed the end date back. When there’s wet weather, dirt work has been put off. However, construction has not been completely halted as work continued on the bridges.
“Keeping the project moving has meant working around the weather and appropriating resources and people where needed,” says Robert White, Project Engineer. White, who is on site every day and oversees construction adds, “We shift our priorities and people to have them do work wherever they can.”
Both White and Hughes credit the partnership between ODOT and the contractor with keeping the project moving despite the poor weather. “Everyone involved has a project first mentality,” says White. “We have the mindset of searching for the best solution to keep things moving forward.” This along with open communication and sharing expectations has helped the team to find opportunities to save time.
Another challenge to scheduling has come from the mandate to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction from 7a.m. to 9 p.m. Satisfying this requirement has meant a great deal of juggling. The juggling, however, is not haphazard in the least. “The design team created a detailed MOT (maintenance of traffic) plan and our first responsibility was to memorize it,” says White. The MOT was so complex that the plans to explain it were longer than other plans for entire projects.
Safety is Key for Both Workers and Commuters
According to White, there was a good deal of temporary work that had to be completed before the actual project could be started, including adding a temporary lane. At other points through the project, lanes have been narrowed and traffic has been run on the shoulders. A benefit of using the shoulders was they were widened and if a problem occurs later, traffic can be run there. Like the weather, keeping the lanes open has meant a good deal of phasing and sequencing of work. The bridges have also been constructed in phases.
With the temporary work and traffic shifts, safety of those involved in the construction is a particular concern. There is a variable speed limit that is digitally connected through Bluetooth. If nobody is working on the project, the speed limit is 60 mph. If workers are on the project but behind barrier walls, the speed limit is 55. If construction workers are on the project with no protection, the speed limit is lowered to 50 mph.
Upon completion of the reconstruction and widening of I-75, commuters will have a safer commute. Previously, one ramp was a cloverleaf ramp. The ramp, which has average daily traffic of 10,000 was problematic. “There were a number of accidents each year on this ramp such as trucks tipping and cars running off the road,” says Hughes. “As part of the redesign, we created a flyover ramp which is expected to greatly reduce traffic incidents.”
Accessing a local area will also be simplified upon project completion, and it will allow traffic to flow more smoothly. Local residents will also benefit from the noise walls, which feature city of Findlay branding. Growth in the area is expected to continue. It is projected that average daily traffic will grow by 15 percent and reach 60,000 by 2036.
The project, which is being funded primarily by the state in addition to some federal assistance, was originally expected to cost $113.2 million. However, currently they are slightly over budget. “There were remnants of old bridges – piers and abutments – that we did not know existed, and they had to be removed,” says White. On the flip side, “the plans also noted some things had to be removed, but they were not there.”
One way ODOT has striven to keep costs down is through cement stabilization. “The soils were not to the strength we needed them to be to offer the required stabilization,” says Hughes. “We treated the soil directly under the pavement which is a way to increase strength at a reasonable rate.”
With the Federal Aid Highway Act that established thousands of miles of interstate receding further into the rearview mirror, upgrades and redesigns are necessary to deal with new realities. With the I-75 reconstruction and widening in Hancock County, ODOT is making the road safer for commuters and enabling the area to continue to grow with the knowledge their infrastructure can handle it.