As orange barrels and cars fill state Route 59, relief on the way

Brock Harrington

After slowing traffic down for several weeks, the first stage of improvements along state Route 59 are finally wrapping up.

The road, which has seen orange barrels and road closings since May, has been receiving an upgrade from state Route 261 to Menough Road near Ravenna.

The work includes adding a left turning lane at the intersection of state Route 59 and Erie Street and widening the lanes, said Jerry Jones of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s public information department for District 4. The total cost of the project is $6.2 million.

For the last two weeks, the stretch from state Route 261 to Powder Mill Road has been limited to one lane while a road crew works to put the final touches on the new turn lane and paving. The crew has two workers directing traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

After the north stretch is finished, the crew will close the stretch from Powder Mill Road and Menough Road to one lane to complete the improvements. Although the second phase of the project is excepted to begin in October, weather will likely limit the labor hours and force the construction to drag into spring of 2009, Jones said. Drivers can expect similar delays, Jones said. The project is expected to be completed by next July.

Delays have been long and frustrating, said local employees and residents who use the route to go from Kent to Ravenna. Workers at Memorial Animal Hospital, which is located near the new turn lane off of state Route 59, have seen the delays up-close and have felt the effects of traffic.

“It’s been an inconvenience and it’s taking such a long time,” said Mary Delany, who has worked at the animal hospital for 22 years and said she has never seen Route 59 so busy. “The last 10 days have been really bad getting in and out of these areas. We understand the construction needs to be done, but it should be done at night.”

Although working at night is an option for longer projects on major highways, ODOT prefers to do projects such as state Route 59 during the day because lanes are only closed for “a couple of weeks” when being re-paved, Jones said. The natural advantages of daylight also factored in the decision not to work at night.

Delany said the afternoon traffic has caused clients to be late, and has even made her think twice about leaving the animal hospital during her lunch break. Delany said she knew the road was going to be improved when the project started in May, but didn’t think the project would affect clients for this long.

“Because most of our clients know or are aware of what’s going on, they’ll leave earlier,” Delany said. “(ODOT) told us there would be construction (before the work started), but they did not tell us it would effect our business practice like this.”

Businesses aren’t the only locations that are feeling the road construction blues. Residents at the newly built Pebblebrook apartments face an up-hill battle which ever way they turn out of the complex.

“It’s a hassle,” Bobby Marquardt, junior biochemistry major, said. “At the worst point, it took 25 minutes to get out of the parking lot.”

When Marquardt signed the lease to his apartment in March, his landlord did not mention the upcoming road construction that would last throughout the lease, but Marquardt said his frustration is more toward ODOT than anyone.

“My initial reaction (to the lane closures) was, ‘why couldn’t they have done this over the summer, when (students) wouldn’t have been here?'” Marquardt said.

Although the construction began in the summer, weather issues and problems with traffic lights along state Route 59 caused delays in the project, Jones said.

“We hope to have (state Route 261 to Powder Mill Road) completed by next week or sometime in early October,” Jones said. “Delays should be done (next) week.”

Contact public affairs reporter Brock Harrington at [email protected].