City, neighborhoods help ODOT redesign I-70-71 split

The state's first proposal met with disfavor.

By ROSEMARY KUBERA

The newest ideas for upgrading the congested and accident-prone Interstate 70-71 split range from the minimal to the massive.

Ideas include: gutting and rebuilding the split; relocating I-70 to state Route 104 and turning the present highway into a city street; construction of freeway decks and tunnels along the split; or merely upgrading the present freeways and adding a lane for through traffic, said Michele May, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The concept presented in November called for motorists to enter and leave Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods on "flyover ramps" or connector roadways running parallel to I-70. Motorists would have one chance to exit the freeway onto the connector or bypass Downtown.

Proposed ramps were near the I-71-state Route 315 intersection on the west side, and near Parsons Avenue on the east. The plan called for construction of three through lanes along the I-70-71 split.

But the city of Columbus and neighborhood groups called for direct freeway access and better connections between Downtown and surrounding areas.

ODOT was stumped, and this month it held an invitation-only workshop for government representatives and neighborhood groups. It was there that new concepts came to light, said May.

ODOT will meet with workshop members again within the next two weeks to clarify ideas and then spend three months analyzing them. Results will be presented to the community in or around May.

Columbus officials and representatives of nearby neighborhoods have said they want easy access to the central city for reasons that include commerce and fast connections for emergency vehicles.

Neighborhoods favor minimal freeway changes, said Bill Curlis, president of the German Village Society.

They support the addition of a new lane for through traffic and the possible elimination of a few ramps along I-70 south of Downtown to solve the problem of vehicles weaving between lanes, he said.

The city of Columbus hasn't endorsed any option, said Mary Webster, assistant public service director.

Maps of proposed designs may be viewed at ODOT's Web site at www.dot.state.oh.us/7071study/overview.asp.

Once overall plans for the roadway are set, ODOT will turn its attention to bridge designs, lighting, noise abatement and other details, said May.

The $500 million construction project is set to start in 2007 and is expected to be completed in about three years.