YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A three-year, $97 million project to widen Interstate 80 kicked off in Austintown on Tuesday, when Ohio Department of Transportation officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking.

Officials said the 6-mile project will address safety concerns and increase Interstate 80 from four lanes to six between state Route 46 and state Route 193. This stretch of highway sees twice the rate of crashes as other sections along the I-80 corridor, officials said.

More than 60,000 vehicles drive through this stretch of highway every day.

“That is a lot of cars. About one-third of those are trucks. So trying to keep that traffic moving, at an acceptable level of service, without anyone getting into an accident is our primary challenge,” Brian Hughes of MS Consultants said.

MS Consultants is the engineer for the project. The contractor is Shelly and Sands, Inc. of Akron.

“There is a tremendous amount of congestion on this interstate driving through. Everybody who is out there please be our help and let people know there is going to be construction barrels up for the next three-and-a-half seasons,” ODOT District 4 spokesman Jim Kinnick said.

The project is expected to be finished by July of 2018.

Two lanes of traffic will be maintained in each direction during peak travel hours. Various ramp closures ranging from 15 days to 435 days will occur throughout the project, according to an ODOT fact sheet.

“This is much more than road resurfacing. This project will completely replace the pavement, all the way down to the dirt,” Hughes said.

Six bridges also will be rebuilt and widened, including the eastbound and westbound 750-foot long bridges just west of U.S. Route 422. ODOT said the construction cost for just those two bridges is approximately $20 million.

Engineers said it is work that is long overdue.

“That section of highway really reached its useful life years ago,” Hughes said.

Construction already has started on the highway.

“In our world and in our industry, we consider it a very monumental milestone, in delivering the largest project in the department’s history,” ODOT District 4 Deputy Director Allen Biehl said.

ODOT’s fact sheet also states that 300,000 cubic yards of dirt will need to move during the project. That equates to about 3 feet deep over 62 acres.

It also states that more than 57,000 feet of guardrail and median cable rail will be used during the project, as well as 170,000 cubic yards of asphalt. The bridge work will require over 2 million pounds of reinforced steel, 10,000 cubic yards of concrete and 4 million pounds of structural steel, ODOT’s fact sheet states.