Inner Belt Bridge excess dollars moved to I-75 work near Toledo

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Some $67 million left over from Cleveland’s Inner Belt Bridge construction project will be spent on widening a stretch of Interstate 75 south of Toledo.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission voted today to shift the money from funds it initially approved for construction of the eastbound bridge over the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland to the I-75 project in Hancock and Wood counties.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is widening a congested, crash-prone, 25-mile  section of I-75 from two lanes to three lanes in each direction, ODOT’s Greg Murphy said.

The project was expected to cost $366.5 million, with $204 million of that coming from the turnpike. But construction is now expected to total $68.3 million more than originally forecast.

Meanwhile, the bid for other road work that got turnpike funding — the I-90 eastbound bridge in Cleveland — came in at $273 million, or $67 million less than the $340 million that turnpike commissioners allocated last August. Moving the Inner Belt money to the I-75 construction relieved the shortfall, Murphy said.

The Inner Belt and I-75 jobs were among 10 projects across northern Ohio that got a combined $930 million in
funding in the turnpike’s first venture into financing projects off the
toll road. The turnpike issued $1 billion in bonds, but kept $70 million for its own repairs and construction along the tollway.

Turnpike commissioners voted last summer to issue bonds to speed along road and bridge work  that might have been delayed for years because of a lack of money. Toll increases over the next decade will be used to pay off the bonds.

Turnpike Executive Director Richard Hodges said commissioners have resolved to allocate the bond proceeds only to actual construction, not to the design work that precedes it.

That’s one reason why the Inner Belt surplus could not be held in store for future phases of the massive project, which includes not only the two bridges but also redesigning Dead Man’s Curve and multiple other fixes to improve safety and reduce traffic delays along Interstates 90, 71 and 77 where they converge in downtown Cleveland.

As is typical with bond proceeds, the $1 billion also had to be distributed fairly quickly, a term of the bond financing — in this case by 2018.

“We need to spend it down quickly, for projects that are ready to go to construction,” Murphy said of the funding.

A team led by Trumbull Corp. is tearing down the 1950s
Inner Belt Bridge and will begin construction later this year on the span that will carry traffic east across the river. The new westbound Inner Belt Bridge that opened in
November will handle traffic in both directions until its eastbound partner is done in late 2016.

The bridges are the first two steps in what ODOT says will be a seven-phase project to improve the Inner Belt system.

A state advisory council has approved spending $24.5 million on the third chapter of the Inner Belt overhaul, focusing on Interstate 77 in the area north of Interstate 480, and along I-90 in the area between East 9th and East 22nd streets. Construction on the central interchange gets underway in 2025, according to a schedule on the website of ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council.