Traffic jams to follow I-75 ramp closures

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Traffic jams to follow I-75 ramp closures

Tentative timeline for I-75 reconstruction

Monday: Northbound exits at First and Third streets close

Late November/early December: Southbound ranps at First and Third streets close

Fall/Winter: Salem Avenue, First Street and Second Street closed

December: All I-75 traffic shifts to northbound side with two lanes northbound and three southbound

September 2014: All I-75 traffic shifts to newly constructed southbound side with two lanes northbound and three southbound

September 2014: Salem Avenue bridge closes

2016: Salem Avenue, Salem Avenue bridge, First Street and Second Street re-open

2016: I-75 through traffic lanes move back to appropriate sides with three lanes in both directions

2017: Central interchange to and from downtown opens

Fall 2017: Project completion

For more information, go to www.I75commuting.com

Source: Ohio Department of Transportation

Sgt. Mark Bowron of Newstalk Radio WHIO (AM1290 and 95.7FM) and WHIO-TV will take questions about the traffic changes during an online chat at 10 a.m. Friday. Go to www.DaytonDailyNews.com to participate.

Northbound travelers on Interstate 75 will face heavy traffic, if not major backups, Monday morning with the closure of the two primary downtown exits.

The closure of the First Street and Third Street exits from northbound I-75 is part of the final phase of reconstructing the interstate in Montgomery County. The southbound exits to those streets — both left-hand exits — will close in late November or early December, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The exits are being eliminated as part of the reconstruction. They will be replaced by single northbound and southbound exits. When complete, the highway will have three lanes of traffic in both directions through the county.

The final phase is expected to take about four years and cost $126 million. The entire reconstruction will have taken 16 years and cost $500 million.

The biggest fear on the first day is a traffic jam on northbound I-75 when some commuters discover they can’t get off the interstate downtown and there is a backup at the Main Street exit, north of downtown. ODOT will have electronic message boards along northbound I-75 south of Dayton alerting drivers of the change.

“Plan ahead,” Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Mark Nichols said. “Give yourself extra time, a lot of extra time.”

Additionally, city and downtown businesses have been planning for the shutdown, developing alternative routes and warning employees.

“We don’t want the construction to discourage people from coming downtown,” said Sandy Gudorf, executive director of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “Just like any other change, it’s difficult a first, but people get use to the change.”

Still, the first couple of days after the exits close could be rough for users of the highway through downtown, say officials who are concerned about traffic jams and accidents similar to those that occurred Tuesday morning along I-75 near the Edwin C. Moses Boulevard exit. Two pileups involving multiple vehicles tied up rush-hour traffic.

Around 24,000 people work downtown, according to the partnership, while another approximately 15,000 people commute to Sinclair Community College, so the probability of traffic jams the first several days is high, police said.

 

“I will be coming to work early, and I suggest others do the same,” Dayton Police Maj. Larry Faulkner, commander of the Central Patrol Operations Division, said. “We’re cutting in half the entry points to downtown. That assures there will be backups and blockages.”

Commuters are urged to exit at Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, follow the boulevard along the Great Miami River north to Third Street and cross the river at the Third Street Bridge to downtown; or exit eastbound on U.S. 35 and take the Jefferson Street exit north to downtown.

When the southbound ramps close in late November or early December, the suggested alternative route is the Main Street exit at the northern edge of downtown.Through traffic on I-75 will be maintained with three lanes southbound and two lanes northbound during the four years of construction, according to ODOT.

First Street, Second Street and Salem Avenue will be closed where they pass under I-75. ODOT said the Salem Avenue bridge would remain open with Roberts Drive as access to downtown. Monument Avenue and Third Street will remain open through construction “in some capacity.”

Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, which is four lanes wide, has plenty of traffic capacity, though there is the potential for problems, said Steve Finke, Dayton assistant director of public works. Between Washington Street and and West Fifth Street, the boulevard narrows to two lanes as construction continues on the overhead I-75 bridge. In addition, backups can be expected at the Edwin C. Moses exit from I-75 in the morning and the I-75 entrance from Edwin C. Moses in the evening.

“Getting out of downtown (southbound) in the evening could be a problem,” he said.

Construction on Patterson Boulevard downtown also is a likely choke point, as is the reconstruction of Brown Street. Both projects are scheduled for completion by year’s end.

“As we go along, we’ll adjust to what’s happening. There will be intersections were it takes a couple cycles of the lights to get through. We may be adjusting the light cycles as the traffic patterns develop,” Finke said.

Statistics show highway construction zones can be dangerous for drivers. From January 2011 through Aug. 16, 2012, there were 160 accidents on I-75 between Fifth Street and Edwin C. Moses, according to Highway Patrol. That works out to 80.4 accidents per mile, the highest rate for any stretch of I-75 from U.S. 4 to the north through Butler County to the south.

For years, though, “Malfunction Junction” — the interchange U.S. 4 and I-75 interchange — was notorious for being accident-prone. But since the completion of a new interchange last year, crashes on that 3-mile section of I-75 have dropped from 1,237 in 2008 to 151 last year. Through Aug. 16, the number is 65 this year.

Traffic enforcement officers credit the new interchange for the dramatic drop. They hope a similar drop occurs along the Fifth-to-Edwin C. Moses Boulevard stretch of I-75 when the final phase is finished.

Meanwhile, traffic officers fear the number of crashes will remain high because of driver inattention, the leading cause of interstate accidents. Any accidents in the new construction zone could traffic to a standstill, especially during rush hour.

“There is a payoff to all this construction,” said Rick Splawinski, Montgomery County chief deputy engineer, who has watched the barrels go up on I-75 since the first phase of reconstructrion started 2002. “Over 16 years there have been eight critical projects along I-75 to rebuild the critical north-south artery through Dayton.”

“People have received a lot — $500 million in infrastructure investment to rebuild an aging interstate. ODOT has accomplished a lot,” he said.

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