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I-75 downtown rebuild ahead of schedule

State says ‘malfunction junction’ fix should be complete later this year

Motorists who use Interstate 75 will be able to celebrate the end of “Malfunction Junction” through downtown Dayton later this year.

The massive rebuild of the highway could be completed by Sept. 1 — a year ahead of schedule.

The Ohio Department of Transportation launched the start of the 2016 construction season Tuesday, saying it’s confident that the I-75 reconstruction will be completed early and $1 million under budget.

That’s a big relief for commuters who later this year won’t have to navigate the cramped traffic flow and lane-hopping that occurs when exits and entrances are spaced close together. When work finishes, three through lanes will travel both north and south. The new highway will have longer ramps for easier mergers.

I-75 now carries 128,000 vehicles per day through Dayton. A quarter of the vehicles are trucks, a number that is well beyond the highway’s engineered capacity.

“It wasn’t built for that capacity,” Phil Parker, President of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “This has been a real win win win project.”

When it is completed, Parker said the community will have to shed a phrase from the local vocabulary.

“From now on, we won’t refer to it as Malfunction Junction,” he said.

$3 million incentive

There are a couple of caveats. ODOT is hoping for good weather and no complications from unforeseen problems such as utility lines where they don’t expect them. But because progress to this point seems brisk, District 7 construction ddministrator David Ley is confident.

“It should get done in late fall,” he said. “We are hopeful we can make the Sept. 1 date.”

There’s a big incentive awaiting contractor Kokosing Construction Company if the job is completed early — a $3 million bonus. The company has earned incentive payments of $625,000 so far.

The final phase of the multi-year project began in 2012. By regional standards, it’s by far the largest, and longest-running, construction project in the area.

By the time the work finishes, $300 million will have been spent on five miles of interstate over nine years. This year will see work mostly on the northbound side of the highway with the pouring of concrete for bridge decks, the erection of parapet walls and striping.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is eager for the job to finish this year.

“The citizens of Dayton are very excited to have new exits coming on and off,” she said.

Looking statewide, the 2016 orange barrel season will be a big one. Nearly $2.1 billion will be spent on Ohio’s transportation network this construction season. ODOT is planning 157 safety projects, improving 1,167 bridges and fixing 6,485 miles of pavement.

More crashes

The news is not all good, though. In 2015, a record year with $2.5 billion in highway spending, the state also hit a decade-high in construction zone accidents.

ODOT Director Jerry Wray, speaking at a news conference beneath an I-75 overpass above Second Street, said there had been 6,000 crashes in work zones, 1,150 injuries and 30 fatalities in 2015. Most of those who died were drivers and passengers.

One of those fatalities was a construction contract worker who was killed in a crash last year in the Interstate 70 construction zone near Dayton International Airport.

“Please slow down and be careful in our work zones,” Wray said.

The speed limit in the I-75 zone through Dayton is 45 mph.

Other major I-75 work is progressing and on schedule, ODOT said. The work includes:

• Pavement work in Miami and Sheby counties that should finish in October.

• Rebuilding of drainage along the highway north of the Miami County line will continue to close lanes.

• The I-70 lane addition near Dayton International Airport in Englewood should move traffic into its final configuration by winter, with just finish-up work remaining.

Randy Chevalley, Deputy Director of District 7, implored drivers to slow down, eliminate distractions, and be alert in the construction zones.

“This year’s construction season is about to hit on all cylinders,” he said. “Construction workers will be behind a barrel. Stay alert. We want them to be able to go home to their families.”

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