ELYRIA — The Ohio Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that it has nearly finalized plans to reconfigure the area of state Route 57 crossed by the 49th Street bridge.
With the project closer to being a reality than ever, ODOT and state and city leaders stood in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn nearby and lauded the progress that has been made this year to move the project along as cars zipped past an area that in less than a year will be dotted with orange barrels.
Allen Biehl, ODOT’s District 3 deputy director, said the project is “rounding third base and on its way home.”
“We will be out here spring of next year doing a groundbreaking, and I’m excited about that,” he said.
It’s no secret local leaders have long wanted to see the 49th Street bridge and all the confusing routes around it removed. The project was first proposed more than 10 years ago and since then has been held up by a lack of funding.
The improvements would include additional traffic lights, removal of the bridge, widening Route 57 from four to six lanes from Interstate 90 to the Ohio Turnpike, widening of Midway Boulevard to four lanes and removal of ramps to Griswold Road and Midway Boulevard.
Construction is almost a sure thing. The Transportation Review Advisory Council, an agency that guides the state in review and approval of ODOT’s biggest projects, has already preliminarily signed off on the project, and the Ohio Turnpike Commission is expected next month to approve it for funding through the sale of Turnpike bonds.
After final approval by the advisory council, the project will be a go.
“The state Route 57/49th Street bridge reconfiguration project is truly a testament to bipartisan teamwork on behalf of local state government to create an opportunity corridor for Lorain County,” said Mayor Holly Brinda. “Originally slated for completion in 2027, by working together through the Ohio Senate, ODOT and the Ohio Turnpike Commission, Elyria will now see the realization of a $28.8 million infrastructure project beginning in 2014.”
Moving the project up — made possible by the sale of Turnpike bonds at the suggestion of Gov. John Kasich — is a big deal.
“In our business, time is money,” Biehl said. “Every year we delay a project, the cost goes up dramatically, as does the cost of gasoline, asphalt and construction materials.”
Biehl said the Lorain County project is the one in his district that can get to market the fastest once the funding is in place.
“People talk about Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor, but this is Lorain County’s,” Biehl said. “What this project will do is open this corridor for Midway Mall and all the businesses around it. In some ways this wall represents the great wall of divide in Elyria, and it’s time we changed that.”
Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams, a former business owner in the area, said he can’t wait for the day detailed conversations about how to navigate the area will no longer be necessary.
“I know what it’s like to explain to customers how to get over the bridge,” he said.
State Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville and chair of the Transportation Committee, said the Elyria project was No. 1 on her priority list when Kasich first suggested financing infrastructure improvements through the sale of bonds.
“When the governor came to us and said, ‘We need to bond the Turnpike,’ I got it,” Manning said. “Without it, we would be doing this project years from now. Frankly, as a state, we were out of money.”