By Sue Hagan, ThisWeek Staff Writer

Given big dreams but limited resources, Columbus officials have created a priority list for freeway caps and gateway ramps associated with the I-70/71 split reconfiguration.

The city believes that of 12 projects proposed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, priority should be given to six of them -- High, Third and Front streets along the south side of the split, and Spring, Long and Broad streets on the east side.

"The reason why these have been chosen as priorities is two-fold," said Mary Carran Webster, assistant public service director, adding that ideally, all 12 would be completed if funding were sufficient.

"One, is connectivity -- connecting the neighborhoods," she said. "In these cases ... neighborhoods were torn apart by the freeway.

"Second is the opportunity for economic development. These six present the greatest opportunity," she said.

The cost estimate for these six locations ranges from $53-million to $62-million, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Varner. So far, ODOT has committed $10-million to this purpose, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has promised $12-million.

Last December, ODOT unveiled its vision for caps and "grand gateways" at 12 locations, costing up to $110-million.

The caps, which would widen the roadways over the highway and add such features as green space and sculpture, have been proposed for nine crossings, including High, Third, Long and Broad on the city's priority list.

Spring and Front streets, along with Parsons Avenue, would get a "grand gateway" treatment, which would augment the ramps leading to those main thoroughfares to highlight them as gateways to Columbus.

Varner and Webster both said that further funding sources are being sought.

The idea behind the caps is to create a crossing wide enough to render the freeway below virtually invisible to people passing above.

That has been accomplished with the High Street cap over I-670, which includes restaurants and shops.

The other caps would not necessarily be as elaborate because of the expense, said Varner.

Those cross streets that would not get an extensive cap treatments would still be improved on a pedestrian scale, under the ODOT plan.

Within its overall project budget, ODOT has earmarked $37-million for "baseline" streetscape improvements to all 12 crossings, including widening the sidewalks and adding some buffers to protect pedestrians from wind, noise and unpleasant views of the highway below.

Varner said that even if caps cannot be built at all the suggested locations, construction will include supports that could hold future caps, once funding becomes available.

Construction could begin in 2011 on the $1-billion project to untangle the overlap of I-70 and I-71.

ODOT has already earmarked $525-million for all the construction east of the Scioto River. Rebuilding the interchange between I-70/71 and Route 315 will cost the remaining $475-million and construction there would likely start after 2015, according to ODOT officials.

Varner emphasized that no plans are final, and a final decision has yet to be made between using Mound and Fulton or Livingston and Fulton as connector roads on the south leg of the split.

"We extended the public feedback period (beyond July 13), while ODOT continues to meet with some of the smaller community groups that are impacted by the project," he said.

Varner said the public comment will be part of the project proposal packet ODOT sends to the Federal Highway Administration, possibly in August.


This story ran on page 02A NEWS of ThisWeek, German Village edition on 07/26/2007.