Driving through Akron on Interstate 76-77 is going to get much more complicated starting Monday night.

The Ohio Department of Transportation will begin making repairs to the East Avenue bridge over the highway and will close lanes and two nearby ramps until mid-March.

The work, which involves fixing steel beams damaged when a bulldozer being hauled by a tractor-trailer struck the underside of the bridge in December, will affect tens of thousands of motorists who use the highway each day. The bridge is located where interstates 76 and 77 merge and diverge on the west side of the city.

The interstate will be reduced to one lane eastbound, creating a significant bottleneck for drivers heading into Akron. Meanwhile, the ramp from eastbound I-76 to the Kenmore leg of the interstate and the ramp from the Kenmore leg to I-76-77 eastbound will be closed.

Two lanes on the bridge that already have been closed will remain closed.

ODOT is encouraging motorists to use Interstate 277/U.S. Route 224 and Interstate 77 as a detour.

"Give yourself some extra time to get to work," ODOT spokesman Brent Kovacs said.

Two of the seven steel beams on the bridge were bent when the span was hit by the bulldozer. The bulldozer struck the bridge with such force that the piece of construction equipment bounced off the trailer.

Youngstown Bridge & Iron will use "heat straightening" to fix the beams. The process involves heating the beams at a high temperature while also applying pressure to bend them back into their original shape, Kovacs said.

If the beams cannot be repaired, new beam sections will be spliced in, he said. Several cross braces between the beams also need to be replaced.

The project is expected to cost about $375,000. The state will pay the bill and then attempt to recover the cost through the trucking firm and its insurance company.

The bridge repairs are unrelated to two incidents involving pieces of the span falling onto the highway below and striking vehicles since the bulldozer accident, Kovacs said. ODOT has declared the bridge safe.

 

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