This was the groundbreaking, 50 years ago this week, that cut in half the time it would take to get to my girlfriend’s (now wife of 43 years) house on E. Midlothian Boulevard from my house on the West Side. Until 1975, I-680 ended at South Avenue. The Boardman Expressway extended I-680 to E. Midlothian Boulevard. Her house was a few houses east of the freeway. Mine was on Portland Avenue. When the Boardman Expressway opened, I would drive down the street, get on the freeway at Oakwood, and get off at Midlothian in just eight minutes–instead of the fifteen minutes driving up South Avenue, and over Midlothian (or the back way I took up Gibson and a couple other streets). Seven minutes may not seem like much, but when you are in love….
In my mind, the Boardman Expressway was made expressly for me, even though it facilitated movement throughout the city and to the border of Boardman Township. Eventually, the road would extend past Western Reserve Road and link up with the Ohio Turnpike.
The planning for the expressway began in 1956, a few years after I was born. The project would end up costing $16 million dollars. The city’s portion was just $818,000, generated from a 1956 bond issue. State bond issue wasn’t passed until 1968, and federal funds made up the remainder. Bridges had to be built where South Avenue, Gibson, Indianola, and Shirley passed over the road. The expressway would pass over Midlothian, Shady Run and Dewey.
It also displaced a number of people in its path in neighborhoods in the lower part of Gibson, separated neighborhoods near Poland Avenue from the rest of the South side, breaking up Powersdale Avenue, Caledonia and Union Streets, and taking out the homes between Taylor Street and Homewood Avenue. Part of the expressway right of way avoided homes, passing through Pine Hollow until it reached Midlothian Boulevard. In all, hundreds of families were “re-located” which accounted for a number of delays in the project, which went forward in “fits and starts” under several city mayors–Frank Kryzen, Frank R. Franko, Harry Sevasten, Anthony B. Flask, and Jack Hunter. All but Flask were part of the groundbreaking. Interestingly, Franko and Hunter, in the thick of an election campaign against each other, are at opposite ends of the groundbreaking group. These were all names I grew up with.
Also a part of the groundbreaking was J. Philip Richley, at the time Ohio Highway Department Director, and previously Mahoning County and Youngstown City engineer. He told the story of the fifteen year process to get to the groundbreaking. Fittingly, Mayor Hunter presented him the “Key Man Award,” only the third recipient of the award for his contribution to Youngstown’s development. A. P. O’Horo, whose construction equipment appears in the background, spoke as contractor and Edmund Salata as city engineer. The Wilson High School band played. And the work began.
That segment of I-680 was only open for the last couple years we dated. After the summer of 1976. I moved away from Youngstown. We got engaged the following year and married the year after. My wife’s mom lived on Midlothian until 1996, so we made many more trips over that expressway over the years. What was at one time a welcome novelty just became the way to mom’s house. But with a young child in the back seat, we were glad for every minute saved! And my parents were only eight minutes away on the West side–and so it was easy to see all the in-laws in one visit.
I-680 made our lives easier. But it changed the city. It broke up neighborhoods and displaced families. It facilitated travel to the suburbs, the plazas, and the malls. It changed downtown. The same story happened all over the country. One wonders, knowing what we know now, if we would do it over or at least do it in the ways we did. For better or worse, we live in a world of what is rather than what if. At the time, however, all this young man thought of was seeing his girl friend seven minutes sooner.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!