The massive widening project along Interstate 76 in western Summit County will wrap up next year, but that doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing for highway motorists.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is launching a new four-year, $28.5 million project along the highway in Barberton and Akron next year, with the work expected to get underway in May. The project includes continuing to widen I-76, new ramps, resurfacing, bridge work and likely a major inconvenience for anyone driving the more than a mile stretch of highway.

The work comes at the same time ODOT is completing an $80.4 million project that involves widening the highway to three lanes in each direction from Barberton to Wadsworth. The new project, which is broken into three phases, will extend the widening to the Kenmore Leg of the highway in Akron.

"We're giving you three lanes all the way from Wadsworth to Akron," ODOT spokesman Brent Kovacs said.

The state agency, which released some new details about the project this week, will bid the contract in March so there are no specific dates for the work yet, he said.

Curtis Baker, director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, said the project is necessary to fix an aging highway system and an "awkward" stretch where interchanges were constructed too close together. It's a busy section of highway, with about 77,587 vehicles a day traveling there.

"We need to improve it and make it safer and run smoother," he said. "Unfortunately, it's on that same corridor for those who live to the west."

In addition to the highway widening, here's a look at some of the major aspects of the project, which includes plenty of work off I-76:

• The I-76/Wooster Road North/East Avenue interchange ramps will be removed and a new interchange will be constructed at State Street/Romig Road.

By putting more distance between interchanges, ODOT can lessen the number of vehicles entering and exiting the highway within a short distance and improve safety by reducing crashes, Kovacs said.

• Special access roads will be built on the north and south sides of the highway to connect State/Romig to Wooster/East. ODOT has purchased and is tearing down about 25 structures, including houses, to make way for the new interchange and access roads.

Many houses already have been razed. ODOT has set aside about $3.5 million for right-of-way acquisition and demolition.

The work along the access roads will include storm drainage, traffic signals, sidewalks and lighting.

• Central Avenue will be closed at the highway and motorists no longer will be able to drive under I-76. The gap will be filled in.

• Wooster will be resurfaced from the I-76 east ramp to East Hiram Street.

• Fifth Street Northeast will be resurfaced between Harding Avenue and East Paige Avenue.

• Minor bridge maintenance will be completed on six bridges along the highway.

• The Kenmore Leg of I-76 in Akron will be closed for up to 45 days in each direction for bridge work.

Barberton Mayor Bill Judge said the city has been working closely with ODOT on the project for several years and that it should improve safety.

Barberton Ward 1 Councilwoman Shannon Wokojance, who represents the area, also is looking forward to the project, saying it should make the area safer for motorists and provide a more attractive entrance into the city. But she also recognized the impact on the neighborhood with many homes being torn down.

"It was difficult for quite a few residents," she said. "Some were happy on being bought out and other people were absolutely not."

She said she expects an increase in traffic on State Road and would like to see the speed limit reduced there from 35 mph to 25 mph.

As for how the neighborhood will deal with the lengthy construction, she said: "It's inconvenient but sometimes you have to just bear through it."

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Reach him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.