On my whirlwind trip last weekend, I got my first chance to drive the newly completed Fort to Port Freeway (U.S. 24) between Fort Wayne, Indiana (Fort) and Toledo, Ohio (Port), though I did it in reverse order of east to west.
I have driven this route a number of times before, especially when we resided outside of Ann Arbor, but until recently the only limited access segments were near Defiance and Napoleon, Ohio. The old, mostly two-lane route was very scenic and picturesque as it meandered along the north shore of the scenic Maumee River, adjacent to Fallen Timbers Battlefield National Historic Site, the Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor, and by the remaining historic features of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Unfortunately, this also could be slow drive, had many dangerous and hidden drives, and the growing number of truck using the route to shave off the right angle of using I-69 to I-94 to reach Detroit made the old route often tedious.
The new freeway is very nice and is obviously popular with trucking companies – it reduces the distance from Fort Wayne to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada from Detroit by 50 miles as it serves as the hypotenuse between these two cities. Sunday’s return trip along the I-69 to I-94 route contained noticeably less truck traffic than before, as the new Fort to Port was siphoning off quite a bit of trans-national truck traffic heading to or from Canada.
The only disappointments with the new route (aside from there being few services other than at Defiance and Napoleon) was that more rural portions of the Ohio segment contain 15 at-grade intersections and one at-grade railroad crossing. Hopefully, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has contingency plans if these need to be converted to grade-separated crossings to improve safety and traffic flow. It would also need to be done before the highway could be re-shielded as an Interstate Highway.
Indiana’s segment is almost entirely grade separated limited access, though the interchange at I-469 will need to be upgraded at some point to reconfigure the ramps and remove the current traffic signals. Otherwise, it is smooth sailing the whole way, though it is posted at 65 mph in both Indiana and Ohio versus I-69 and I-94 which are posted at 70 mph.
My favorite feature of the new expressway is that Ohio has added some decorative features to the bridges and overpasses. Among the designs were artificial arches, as well as oak leave images carved into the concrete in the Oak Openings Region (my favorite design), and imprinted railroad car and barn images on the sides of the structures. Nice touch, ODOT.
While I am not one who ardently supports the building of expressways hither and yarn across the countryside, this particular freeway was definitely needed given the vastly increased truck traffic since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect in 1994 and growing safety concerns along the old, narrower route. I am particularly happy that a new route was chosen over widening the older roadway given the important historical features along the Maumee River valley.