I-80 widening long-awaited and worth it

The orange-barrel season usually brings gripes and frustrations from motorists always in a hurry to get where they are going.

Those orange barrels already were up, and work already is under way just days after last week’s groundbreaking for the massive widening project on Interstate 80 through the Mahoning Valley. It is being touted as one of the largest Ohio Department of Transportation projects in history.

But rather than griping, residents, businesses and motorists should be cheering for the project that is expected to dramatically enhance and improve the economic climate of the region.

Tuesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking marked the official start of construction on the six-mile stretch. The $91.5 million project ultimately will mean improved infrastructure for the area, hopefully paving the way for new economic growth.

The project will greatly enhance transportation between Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and will subsequently enhance commerce, recreation, regionalism and other quality of life issues, largely due to the ultimate reduction in congestion, increase in safety and improved flow of commerce along I-80.

The I-80 widening project had risen to the top of the Regional Chamber’s Grow Mahoning Valley Council’s list of priority projects requested by ODOT in 2011.

Grow Mahoning Valley is a public-private-labor partnership that prioritizes the Valley’s major infrastructure projects for state and federal funding. The Regional Chamber had created the council in conjunction with the Eastgate Council of Governments, with a mission of promoting economic development and quality of life in the Mahoning Valley through the completion of infrastructure projects like the I-80 widening.

Four years later, the project to increase this high-traffic stretch through Austintown, Weathersfield and Liberty townships and the city of Girard from four to six lanes is underway, after being moved up on ODOT’s priority list. The work also will include replacement and widening of six bridges along the corridor.

This portion of I-80 sees 56,000 to 64,000 vehicles daily, with 30 percent of those being trucks, making it one of the largest gateways in northern Ohio.

No doubt, there will be frustrations. Construction is expected to last more than three years. There will be ramp closures that could range from 15 to 435 days. And although ODOT expects to keep at least two lanes open in each direction during peak travel times, certainly there will be backups and bottlenecks. Just expect it.

But in the long run, the project that has been discussed for years will be worth it. Improved infrastructure is always a good thing for the flow of traffic and ultimately the flow of commerce to and from local businesses.