“It’s tearing the neighborhood apart. It’s going to displace people and their homes.”
Loren Noyes, President of West Toledo’s Lincolnshire Homeowner’s Association, said at a recent community meeting about a project to widen I-475 from two lanes to three lanes between Douglas Road and U.S. 23. The proposed project, put forward by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), has met criticism from residents who live near the expressway – who may lose their homes.
Residents have formed a group, the I-475 Neighborhoods Coalition, which seeks to put an end to the plan. Originally proposed in 2020, ODOT shelved the idea after the Coalition held several meetings bringing together dozens of residents in opposition. Earlier this year, ODOY resurrected the plan and the Coalition has been resurrected in an attempt to stop it.
Safety & Congestion Cited
ODOT’s stated reasons for the widening project, currently estimated to cost $186,000,000, come down to two major factors: safety and congestion. “There are some design deficiencies that don’t meet current standards. The roadway was designed back in the 60s, and a lot of things have changed in the last 63 years,” Kacey Young, ODOT District 2 Capital Programs Administrator, said.
Young pointed to two problems with that stretch of I-475: the short length of the interchange ramps, and the “sight distance” – that is, how far a driver can see around curves when traveling at certain speeds. “Since I-75 has been widened and updated, it’s the only (section of the) I-475/I-75 loop around Toledo that has those features still remaining – which makes it one of the less safe roadway sections around Toledo,” Young explained.
“. . .(W)ith accidents, (with) that section of road being only two lanes, and the shoulders are very tight, in that corridor, it really shuts the whole road down…because emergency vehicles can’t get through.”. Young says if the road were three lanes with adequate shoulder space, accidents could be cleaned up more quickly and traffic could continue to move.
Opponents of the plan have two counterarguments: First, even if the section does not meet modern standards, it does not have a high rate of traffic accidents or congestion. Research by the I-475 Neighborhoods Coalition reveals that Federal Highway Administration 2022 statistics taken indicate an average congestion delay of one minute while ODOT’s statistics about that stretch show a crash rate of 0.00037% – which is extremely low.
The group’s second argument is that widening expressways to include more lanes does not reduce congestion; instead, it simply invites more traffic. Social scientists, borrowing an economic term, have come to call this “induced demand,” and numerous studies have shown its validity over the years. Essentially, the easier a road is to travel, the more people will come to use it over alternative routes – so adding more lanes could have the effect of increasing traffic rather than lessening it.
Impact on Private Property
Another point of concern about the project is the impact it will have on private property – including the likelihood that at least a few homes may need to be demolished. City officials are currently pushing the construction of new houses to counter a housing shortage, perhaps a reason why Mayor Kapszukiewicz has recently joined the Coalition in opposing the plan.
ODOT officials cannot yet confirm the number of properties to be taken, but those officials stress that they are working to minimize residential property takings. The plan could include a series of “strip takes,” only removing sections of private property that don’t include houses. The plan is not expected to be complete until mid-2024.
Area residents are concerned that use of an eminent domain process to force property owners to sell their property will not result in fair compensation. As well, residents are worried that property values will decline due to increased noise and the placement of sound walls closer to their homes.
Many involved with the I-475 Neighborhoods Coalition feel that they are being ignored – perhaps deliberately – by ODOT. Peggy Daly-Masternak, coordinator for the coalition, said “No one has yet reported to me in three years that any neighbor . . . has been invited to be a part of those ongoing discussions. We want to be a part of the plan – not the afterthought.”
Noyes, Lincolnshire Homeowner’s Association President, agreed. “The lack of communication from ODOT is astonishing to me,” he said, adding, “There’s too much evidence and knowledge out there that shows the funds could be used for other things that would make a bigger impact on our community as a whole.”
Kacey Young, ODOT project manager, notes the public meeting scheduled for Oct. 25 from 2 pm to 7 pm at Epworth United Methodist Church, 4855 W Central Ave., will provide an opportunity for individuals to learn more and to provide comments on the project. Further information is available on ODOT’s website, and ODOY can also answer questions submitted by phone or email.
When asked if significant public opposition could affect ODOT’s decision to move forward with the project, Young said that ODOT has canceled past projects due to public comment and controversy, and ODOT does plan to listen to comments from the meeting.
“It does make us pause and take a step back and really think about the purpose and need of the project,” Young said. “We’re remaining open to hearing those public comments and working with the locals and the public to get the best benefit for the city and the region.”
ODOT’s public hearing about the proposed widening project will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 25 from 2pm to 7pm at Epworth United Methodist Church (4855 W Central Ave.) Attendees will view a 15-20 minute presentation and have an opportunity to ask questions or to provide feedback. For those who don’t attend but wish to submit comments visit https://tinyurl.com/mv26mjdz