Here’s what drivers need to know about highway construction in Akron
While daily commuters may be frustrated with backups as they attempt to drive through downtown Akron, local trucking companies thank the state for handling another long-term project, in the hope to see smoother roads.
Meanwhile, statistics from the Ohio Department of Transportation indicate that drivers are adjusting to new traffic patterns, with fewer accidents even though backups continue to be daily.
Paul Wolf, a dispatcher at Distribution Solutions of Ohio on West Waterloo Road, said he hasn’t heard many complaints from drivers.
“With the Kenmore leg closed, it stinks a bit, but as far as the other builds, all the ramps and stuff… it’s not a big deal,” he said.
Miller Transfer in Rootstown specializes in oversized loads and has made some adjustments to move cargo around construction areas, according to Anna Ulmer, who also works with the drivers. She said that planning is carried out up to a year in advance for loads carried between cities across the country.
“It’s a frustrating time of the year,” she said.
Why is the Kenmore leg closed?
Construction is in full swing on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s $ 174.5 million central interchange project, which actually extends beyond the north interchange of the Kenmore leg of the I -76.
Preliminary work began in April, followed in May by the closure of the Kenmore section of I-76 until mid-August, although no construction is taking place on this segment on the west side of Akron.
The closure was required due to work on the exterior lanes on both sides of I-76/77 that cut off access to the ramps to and from the Kenmore leg. I-76/77 lanes are being rebuilt from Vernon Odom Boulevard to East Avenue.
I-77 will be rerouted in August
When Kenmore’s leg reopens in mid-August, a new traffic puzzle will begin and last until early November.
Contractors will begin reconstructing the I-76 and I-77 interior lanes near the Kenmore North Interchange, forcing all I-77 traffic to use the Kenmore segment. It will be impossible to enter the downtown freeway and drive towards Fairlawn or vice versa without making a detour.
All I-77 traffic will be diverted onto the Kenmore leg. Northbound traffic on the Kenmore segment will be able to access I-77 north and south.
In addition, two Central Interchange ramps leading to I-76 West will close – from Route 8 to the south and from I-77 to the north.
The detour around the North Kenmore Leg Interchange will be via the Kenmore Leg, I-277, and I-77 on the east side of town.
This year’s work follows the $ 84 million reconstruction of the I-76/77 South Main / South Broadway interchange and pavement and bridge work along I-76. The $ 80 million project to widen Interstate 76 to Norton and Barberton is slated to end this year.
The entire Central Interchange project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
After: Akron area road construction plans in 2021 include ‘biggest project’ in district history
After: The I-76 Kenmore Leg in Akron will close until mid-August as the Central Interchange project begins
Balancing barrels, traffic flow
Mike Simpkins, ODOT District 4 work area manager, said the planning for the project took into account both the need to complete construction, while maintaining the flow of traffic, although at a less than optimal level.
He said the department has learned a lot over the past few years, with several projects completed or underway in the city.
After: ODOT will close the main motorway junction leading to downtown Akron
Simpkins said that by starting with the replacement of the roadway on I-77 between East Avenue and Vernon Odom Boulevard this summer, traffic will continue to flow “more efficiently for the next two years of construction with full capacity. the Kenmore leg as an alternative for circulation. “
He said previous experience with the Kenmore leg closures made engineers realize that an additional lane would be needed on the southbound detour, I-77 south of the central interchange.
After creating the additional lane by retracing the roadway on I-77, the department monitored traffic and posted signs to warn commuters of traffic slowdowns. More signs will be erected as the department plans to post signs as far north as the Ohio Turnpike to inform traffic conditions in the city.
“Traffic patterns will change frequently over the next few years as we rebuild the Akron Beltway,” he added. “We encourage motorists to pay attention to our signs and bulletin boards which are placed well in advance to help them navigate the work area.”
Simpkins said that as the threat of the coronavirus diminishes, people’s work habits appear to have changed from pre-pandemic levels.
“The morning peaks weren’t as high as they were, but the afternoon peaks were about the same,” he said.
An employee working for the construction company doing the work walks the freeways daily to monitor traffic and look for signs of trouble, such as areas where drivers are driving aggressively and new skid marks appear on the road.
Crashes have increased, but drivers have adjusted
ODOT itself has been tracking accidents in the construction zone, which initially increased when work began in April, but have since declined, according to data provided by the department.
Although injury data is not available, ODOT figures from April to July 7 show that there were 50 accidents in the construction zone on I-76 between the Kenmore leg and just in east of Highway 8. The three-year average for this segment is approximately 57 accidents.
Despite the high number of crashes, Simpkins said drivers seemed to be adjusting to the new pattern of traffic, and data shows only four of 50 crashes occurred in the 30 days leading up to July 7.
Likewise, in the construction area of Highway 8, just south of the central interchange to north of Market Street, there were 20 accidents, only one of which was in the previous month – 13 in April, 6 in May and 1 in June.
Credit granted by the State
Kendel Transport, off Gilchrist Road in Tallmadge, transports local and interstate goods, including refrigerated trailers to serve the food industry. Owner Jack Daniels said company drivers commute between Orville and the east side of Akron, “and we drive downtown many, many, many times a day.”
He gave the state high marks for its approach to the project.
“They actually called us and scheduled a meeting to go over the whole project,” he said. “They came to my office and laid out the plan.
“I think they did a great job,” he added. “We are alerted by email, they also have very good signage and I think they did a great job at Akron to manage the flow.
“For example, now that the Kenmore section is closed, they’ve added southbound lanes on I-77. It might not seem like a big deal, but it makes a big difference.”
He also said the local congestion is insignificant compared to that encountered in other parts of the country.
“There are a number of states where you know there is an accident or a construction delay, and it can take hours. And I can’t understand how I wait for hours in a traffic jam in Northeast Ohio. I think there are more roads available to bypass.
Charles Mears, vice president of Ray Bertolini Trucking Co. in West Akron, said he thinks people are tired of road works.
“It’s really more of the same. This has plagued Akron in recent years. It’s worse in some ways, but we’re all working towards a positive end, ”he said. “It’s not that we haven’t adapted to it. We’re just trying to plan our routes a bit better, think a bit more about how to coordinate ourselves, and ask our customers to be a bit more understanding.
Despite the traffic jams, Mears said, “The fastest way, despite the slowdown, is the freeway. ”
“For the most part, this is the best way to get from point A to point B.”
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.