Congestion on I-70/I-71 under study

One proposal would use Rt. 104 to relieve clogged corridor through Downtown

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Sunday, November 24, 2002,
Brian Williams

Central Ohio's busiest stretch of freeway is practically alongside an underused highway, and a landscape architect says that offers a solution to Downtown congestion.

Forrest Gibson drafted a plan that would re-route I-70 south of Downtown onto Rt. 104 to relieve congestion on the I-70/I-71 split.

"You have two major interstate highways converging in the center of the city, which is a recipe for disaster,'' he said. "The Rt. 104 plan would allow those highways to be disconnected, which they should have been from the get-go.''

Ohio Department of Transportation engineers and a task force are considering various options.

"We're definitely interested in what this 104 option can do,'' said Tim McDonald, project manager for a study of Downtown and highway traffic. "We're not against it.''

ODOT launched an 18-month study in the summer to look at congestion Downtown where I-70 and I-71 merge. That stretch carries 175,000 vehicles per day -- far more than the 120,000 it was designed to accommodate 40 years ago.

Most accidents in the corridor are between the East Side split and Front Street, where entrance and exit ramps slow traffic.

The Web site for the study -- www.7071study.org -- includes at least 130 suggestions from residents, including the Rt. 104 option.

Others are restricting truck traffic through Downtown; building a double-deck highway Downtown to separate the interstates; re-routing I-71 north and west of Downtown on I-670 and Rt. 315; and building a light-rail system.

ODOT engineers will evaluate suggestions and release their findings in February or March. Then they will seek more comments from the public, and make recommendations in a year.

Gibson's suggestion would link Rt. 104 with I-70 through an existing right of way -- a long ramp from Rt. 33 to I-70 at James Road.

On the West Side, it goes north through mostly undeveloped land from I-71 and Rt. 104, between Greenlawn and Mount Calvary cemeteries and through Cooper Stadium. Various civic plans already call for moving the Columbus Clippers to Downtown.

But McDonald said even if Rt. 104 is improved as an alternative, it would not be cheap. And ODOT still would have to upgrade the existing Downtown corridor to meet modern safety standards at highway ramps.