ODOT Scraps I-76 Project

Akron Beacon Journal
by Rick Armon

A proposed, massive highway reconstruction along Interstate 76 in Barberton and Akron will be scrapped because there isn’t enough money available for transportation projects throughout Ohio, state officials say.

The Ohio Department of Transportation on Tuesday released a list of recommended construction work, noting that many significant and sought-after highway, bridge and road projects should be delayed years or, in some cases, more than 15 years because of a lack of cash. Some projects were dumped altogether.

The recommendations were made to the Transportation Review Advisory Council, a bipartisan group that approves funding for the state’s biggest transportation projects.

One of the largest casualties in the Akron area is the reconstruction of I-76 from State Road in Barberton to state Route 59 in Akron. That stretch includes the Kenmore leg.

The work, broken into three projects, also involved rebuilding the State Road interchange.

ODOT recommended abandoning that overall $305.2 million effort. Local leaders have been talking about the project for years.

“Unfortunately, this is Ohio’s new reality,” Ohio Department of Transportation Director and TRAC Chairman Jerry Wray said in a prepared statement. “For far too long, previous administrations have added more and more to the list of TRAC projects knowing that there were more projects than funds available.

“Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there simply is not enough money to fund their projects.”

The council received 72 applications last year for new transportation projects totaling nearly $10 billion. And there is already about $2 billion worth of planning and construction under way on other projects.

But, ODOT said, there is only about $100 million per year available to spend on new construction. The state agency must use the rest of its cash for ongoing maintenance of roads and bridges, officials said.

In addition to dumping the I-76 work, the council also recommending scrapping a proposed $22.7 million reconstruction of state Route 94 in Medina County.

The only Akron-area project still slated for construction involves rebuilding Mahoning Road in Stark County. That effort, however, has been delayed at least 14 years.

Several Akron-area projects were included on a “Tier 2” list, meaning they will receive some money for planning or engineering over the next couple of years. But they won’t see construction until 2036 at the earliest.

Those projects include the long-talked-about reconstruction of the I-76/Interstate 77/Main Street/Broadway interchange in Akron; rebuilding I-76/I-77 from the Central Interchange to Route 59 in Akron; adding lanes to state Route 18 in Medina Township; widening state Route 42 in Medina Township; and relocating U.S. Route 30 from Trump Avenue to state Route 44 in Stark County.

Other local projects affected were the proposed widening of I-76 from state Route 21 to State Street and modifying the I-76/Route 21 interchange. Local officials didn’t resubmit applications for those projects to be considered.

The Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, which oversees transportation planning in the region, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

ODOT, which is funded through gas taxes, is looking at other ways to increase its funding to pursue more projects, spokesman Steve Faulkner said.

Those options include adding tolls to highways, leasing the Ohio Turnpike and pushing more public-private partnerships, he said.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.

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