BARBERTON: A plan to widen Interstate 76 in Barberton and eliminate one of the city's two interchanges will uproot more than a dozen families and one business, but officials say it will improve a section of highway with a flawed design that has been on their radar for a decade.
The Ohio Department of Transportation met Wednesday night with residents at Barberton High School to get feedback on its plans for the I-76 section between State Street and Wooster Road, on the city's north end.
The residents affected by the plan ranged from a 95-year-old who doesn't want to give up the only home she's known since 1949 to a couple pleading with ODOT to make them an offer, since almost every other house on their street has been targeted for demolition.
The agency started with 10 ideas, presented their favorite three to residents a year ago, then settled on “Alternative No. 9,” which would add a third lane to both sides of I-76 while closing the Wooster Road ramps. The Wooster ramps are part of three interchanges (including State Road and the Kenmore leg curve) spaced so close together that motorists take risks to navigate lane changes.
Two connector streets would be installed on either side of I-76 to help Wooster traffic get to State Road, and also allow the State Road ramps to function in both directions. State Road currently offers limited access to the highway.
Neighborhoods adjacent to the expressway would also be affected by the permanent closing of Central Avenue beneath I-76 and the relocation of Goodrich Avenue.
Anne Martin has lived next to the State Road on-ramp for 66 years, where she raised a family with her high school sweetheart, Ivan. Approaching her 96th birthday and now visually impaired, she fears leaving the house she knows how to navigate.
“I don't want to move anywhere,” Martin said. “We'll be sad.”
Martin is cared for by her daughter, Mary Robbins, who said they will also miss the neighbors that have been part of their lives for more than half a century.
Those neighbors include the Wilmoth brothers across the street, where Steve and Cecil live in the home where they were raised.
Cecil Wilmoth wonders why there's such a fuss about I-76 and State Road traffic now since Rolling Acres Mall down the street is closed and there are nowhere near the number of motorists who used to line the street.
While his house is also among those expected to be torn down, he counts himself luckier than most: He owns another house on the west side of town, so he and his brother will have a place to go to when the time comes.
Still, Cecil Wilmoth said, “We've lived here all our lives. It'll be different not seeing [the family home] here anymore.”
Tony and Brenda Sigman, meanwhile, are more than happy to leave, if ODOT would only purchase their home on Goodrich.
Instead, they and a neighbor across the street were the only two properties not marked with a yellow “X” on large satellite maps showing which structures ODOT intends to raze. Six other homes on Goodrich were marked.
“We can't sell our property like this,” said Brenda Sigman, who expects her home's value to plummet as the expressway nudges closer to her backyard.
Being in a home that already floods during a heavy rain, she also worries about additional runoff from the new connector road, and voiced frustration about having to live with noise and construction during a project expected to take up to three years to complete.
The other remaining neighbor, Rebecca Wolfe, also asked ODOT to take her home off her hands.
“Why take the other ones but not ours?” she asked.
Questions about plan
Other residents said they were skeptical about an absence of any plan to add a turning lane to Wooster Road, a mostly retail area where traffic heading to and from Akron can back up several blocks on business days. If motorists are blocking the left lane waiting to turn onto the new connector street in order to get to the State Road ramp, won't that cause more traffic congestion on one of Barberton's busiest thoroughfares, they asked.
ODOT expects to begin property acquisition and finish up design plans next year. Construction could begin in 2019.
Comments on the proposal may still be submitted until Nov. 20 by email to Robert.Lang@dot.state.oh.us, by telephone to Lang at 330-786-4975, or by mail to Edward W. Deley Jr., District 4 Environmental Coordinator, ODOT, 2088 S. Arlington Road, Akron, OH 44306-4243.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.