Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I-75 rest areas to open in May

Renovations to Monroe facilities nearly complete

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONROE - For the first time in nearly two years, Ohio's busiest highway stretch will have rest areas - and state transportation officials say it was worth the wait.

By mid-May the extensive $7.5 million renovation of the Monroe rest areas off of north- and southbound Interstate 75 near the Ohio 63 interchange is expected to be done. People in the 78,000 vehicles that pass along that stretch daily will find larger, more modern and safer options when they pull off the interstate.

"When it's done it will be state-of-the-art and easily the most modern rest area in Ohio," said John Burnie, building construction superintendent for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Originally, the I-75 rest areas were slated for a smaller, cheaper and quicker upgrade when they closed in September 2001.

But ODOT officials reviewed new traffic data, which showed that the I-75 stretch through Butler County was the busiest in the state and likely will maintain that distinction. Within 20 years, the count will rise to a projected 110,000 vehicles daily.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials say the $7.5 million facilities will be vastly improved over the old rest stops. A comparison:
• The old rest areas had 11 parking spaces for trucks and 50 for cars. New ones have 24 truck and 65 car spaces.
• CPrevious rest area buildings were 4,000 square feet. The new ones have 8,000 square feet.
• An electronic, interactive kiosk where travelers can get the latest tourist attraction information as well as traffic announcements from highways elsewhere in Ohio.
• The northbound rest area will have a staffed Ohio Tourist Center.
• Twice as many bathrooms, including a family bathroom, as well as expanded vending machines.
• The state's first rest areas monitored by 24-hour security cameras.
Burnie said that each rest area will be twice as large, with more than double the parking spaces for large trucks.

Limited truck parking caused safety problems at the old rest stop, forcing some truckers to park outside the designated lots on the shoulder of the entrance and exit ramps of the rest area.

One of the new features will be electronic kiosks that will allow motorists to find local and state tourist information as well as review road conditions in other locations in Ohio.

"For many motorists it's the first thing they get out of the car and see in Ohio," Burnie said of the new northbound rest stop.

The two buildings at each rest area will be largely encased in glass to further improve security features of the new buildings. The rest areas will be the first in the state with 24-hour security cameras and a round-the-clock caretaker on the premises.

Monroe officials welcome the reopening of the rest areas for both financial and symbolic reasons.

The city is facing a budget deficit and revenue from supplying water from the city's waterworks to the two I-75 rest areas had dried up during the renovation.

And for northbound I-75 travelers contemplating restaurants and businesses in Ohio, Monroe - which straddles the highway - will have a first shot at their wallets, said William Brock, interim city manager.

"It's a good opportunity to sell ourselves," said Brock.

E-mail mclark@enquirer.com

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