In a self-proclaimed effort to save contractor costs on the $1.3 billion Ohio Turnpike modernization program, the tollroad commission appears to have created a monster — dangerously overcrowded truck parking and long lines snaking back from restrooms, fast-food counters and fuel pumps.
The closing of four service plazas for total reconstruction has put a severe strain on the 12 that remain open. And it likely will get worse before it gets better.
Already, the reopening of the first two new plazas at the 100 mile marker — scheduled for May — has been set back at least two months. And completion of all 16 plazas has been pushed back three years to the year 2004.
According to a story appearing in the Toledo Blade, the commission's decision to act as its own general contractor on the project is at least partly to blame for the delays and cost overruns. Not surprisingly, the price tag for each plaza is expected be at least $1 million higher than originally figured.
Alan Plain, the commission's executive director, admits they got more than they bargained for. He said, "Instead of dealing with one person, you're dealing with 30 separate contractors. This is very cumbersome." He also admits the commission's only previous contracting experience involved construction of a maintenance building 15 years ago.
Plaza construction is hitting truckers especially hard. On a recent weekday night, tractor-trailers at one plaza spilled over into the passenger car area and were lined up along the service roadway.
Drivers of doubles and triples are finding it particularly difficult to maneuver. Even if they do find a parking spot, they frequently can't get out until someone moves his rig. As a result, many truckers are leaving the tollway at earlier exits to refuel or find a place to sleep.
Since 1995, Ohio Turnpike tolls have increased 82%, partly to pay for the new travel centers, which will boast large food courts and expanded parking facilities for cars and trucks alike.