For informational/historical purposes only.



(COLUMBUS) - The Ohio Department of Transportation today recommended adding a third lane and building temporary pavement to ease congestion on portions of Interstate 71 between Columbus and Cleveland during highway reconstruction.

The department also recommended establishing trial passenger rail service on the corridor within the next 18 months but only if certain assumptions about cost and ridership can be confirmed. ODOT cannot implement rail service unilaterally and will need to reach agreements with the railroads, AMTRAK and other organizations before rail service could be offered.

"The Governor has made it very clear that two lanes of traffic must be maintained on I-71 at all times," said ODOT Director Jerry Wray. "By combining a number of options to alleviate congestion and provide motorists with alternatives, we can keep traffic moving while contractors work to replace deteriorating pavement on the corridor over the next 10 years."

Construction is expected to begin sometime next year on sections in Cuyahoga County and continue through 2007 on other sections. It will be the first time I-71 has been reconstructed since the highway was built in the 1950s.

During a series of public involvement meetings and surveys conducted in April and May, the department presented the public with several alternatives for maintaining traffic during reconstruction. Based on public input and its own internal analysis, ODOT recommended the following options:

  • add one lane in each direction from south of SR 161 (Franklin County) to the US 36/37 interchange (Delaware County),
  • resurface and patch 27.5 miles of I-71 between the US 36/37 interchange and the Morrow/Richland County line without widening the highway,
  • add one lane in each direction between the Morrow/Richland County line and SR 18 (Medina County),
  • add one lane in each direction between SR 18 and I-271 (Medina County),
  • widen shoulders and bridges to temporarily maintain traffic between I-271 and SR 303 (Medina County),
  • add one lane in each direction between SR 303 and US 42 (Cuyahoga County),
  • add hardware along the corridor for future development of Intelligent Transportation System technology, and
  • possibly implement demonstration rail service within 18 months but only if certain assumptions about cost and ridership can be confirmed.

The total cost to implement all of the recommendations is approximately $535 million over 10 years.

"A lane addition was necessary to ease congestion on some sections of I-71 because of the large volume of traffic and hilly terrain, which can significantly slow truck traffic," said Gordon Proctor, ODOT’s chief of staff. "Although rail service didn’t solve the issue of construction delays, we are pursuing it separately based on its own merits as a result of the large amount of public support it received."

Of the approximately 52,000 vehicles that use the corridor each day, rail would remove about 419 vehicles, according to ODOT’s analysis. Without a third lane on some sections of the corridor, traffic congestion would add two hours to a trip between Columbus and Cleveland, even if passenger rail was added.

"Despite its limited capacity to ease congestion during the reconstruction it does provide a new alternative for motorists traveling between the two cities," said Proctor.

ODOT’s initial review of passenger rail indicates service could be established on existing tracks for about $32 million in capital start-up costs and operating subsidies of $3.3 million annually.

"Over the next few months, we’ll need the cooperation of AMTRAK, railroads, and other state and local agencies to verify our cost estimates and operating assumptions for implementing rail," Proctor said. "ODOT does not have independent authority to operate passenger rail service in Ohio, and it will take a multi-agency effort to make it a reality."

The draft report and recommendations will be released to the public today for a four-week public comment period. Local planning agencies along the corridor and Ohio’s Transportation Review Advisory Council will have final decision-making authority. A decision is expected by the end of August. \