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Darrow Road will be completely rebuilt, exposing two centuries of Stow history

A complete rebuild of Route 91 through the entirety of Stow is set to reveal nearly 200 years of history.

The route, also known as Darrow Road, was first laid down by the State of Ohio in 1825 and has been an important right of way ever since.

But with a cracking and potholed road surface, the important transportation artery is set to get a $10 million rebuild, with stretches being taken back to bare earth and completely rebuilt.

Stow City Engineer Jim McCleary is overseeing the project, which combines state money with city funds.

“In certain areas, the original brick is coming through the road surface,” he said. “There are areas where the asphalt was just put over the brick, and in other places it is built up over two or three pavements.”

Work has already begun in surveying the road for its imminent reconstruction, including taking 20 core samples in strategic places to find out what is underneath the surface.

“Some of the brick is up to eight inches below the surface, so not all of it will need to be replaced,” said McCleary.

As work commences, parts of Stow’s history are coming to light.

“It is interesting to find parts of Stow past,” said McCleary. “The most historic are the markers put in by the county surveyor between Portage, Summit and Stow that run along the east line.

“They are stone monuments shaped in the form of a pillar and some stick up out of the ground, but most have been broken off. They were set in 1876, and the surviving ones stick out about two feet and are now in a monument box. They have the initials of the surveyor on one side and the date on the other.”

He said the first road for Route 91 was laid out in 1825 as a state route since it crossed multiple cities, and the Summit County engineer has copies of the original road alignment.

“It has been widened over the years,” said McCleary. “It was laid out in rods and chains, so it was 66 feet wide originally, the width of a chain. They took that much as a right of way, which was kind of unique as it was all horse and cart back then.”

The unusual width meant it was easier to expand to four lanes and add sidewalks.

“The brick pavers probably went in with the Works Progress Administration during the Depression,” said McCleary. “The first asphalt was probably laid maybe after the Second World War.”

Because the road has evolved and grown, the challenges for the rebuild are varied.

“The road was widened in the late 1960s, so the material changes,” McCleary said. “You go from 11 inches of asphalt on the newer lanes versus eight inches of asphalt over four inches of brick, and in some areas we found two layers of brick when we drilled down. Other areas have asphalt, brick, some sand, more brick and a concrete base.”

Money is coming from the state with more than $8 million through the Surface Transportation Block Grant, the Transportation Alternative Set Aside fund and the Congestion Mitigation Air Authority.

“The state has urban paving money they have granted to us. Put all that together, and it is a little over $8 million, meaning Stow has to come up with $1.5 million matching money,” McCleary said. “It is approximately 80% state and 20% Stow.”

Funds from the air authority are earmarked for new traffic signals along Darrow Road.

“All our signals are over 20 years old,” McCleary said. “New technology lets signals communicate with each other and allows traffic to travel a corridor with less stopping and starting, which keeps air quality better.”

He said preliminary engineering should be completed in the spring. The road is not being moved, but new sidewalks are planned for where there are gaps currently, and curbs are set to be replaced.

Environmental documents will be finished by fall next year, when any rights of way needed will be bought. Final design is scheduled for late 2024, work will go to tender over the winter, and construction is due to begin in May 2025 – two centuries after the road was first established as a state route.

McCleary said parts of the road have “a really good base,” but others need deep work. A gas line is already being replaced along the route so utilities do not have to dig up the new road when it is finished.

“Stow is unusual in that it has three major state routes – 59, 91 and 8,” Mayor John Pribonic pointed out.

Route 59 – from Akron to the Ravenna Arsenal – still has an original concrete base for a long-since-removed trolley system. Previously, a fourth state route – 632 – was designated along Fishcreek Road for a few years, though Pribonic does not know why since that road never left the city of Stow.

“Being a state route means it has more funding abilities,” Pribonic said of the Route 91 project. “The city has to do minor maintenance, but major work is state and federal dollars. We could have gone ahead and done a partial fix. This is going to be a major endeavor, but the long-term improvements will outweigh the disruption. Right now, if we do what is usually done, it would be a Band-Aid.

“If all we did was a resurface, it would last eight to 10 years, and then you start patching potholes. Urban paving programs are about a 20-year cycle, so if we just repaved, we would have 10 years with a bad road surface. Most years, we spend $3 million on our roads. This year, we are over $4 million as we caught up with some stuff that couldn’t be done during Covid. This is a $10 million rebuild.”