Group to Release Concepts to Fix Messy I-70/71 Split

Business First
March 7, 2003

An advisory committee formed by the Ohio Department of Transportation is set to announce March 12 preliminary concepts for revamping the notorious 1.5-mile overlap between interstate 70 and 71 – known as the split – that has aggravated Columbus commuters for years.
Specific recommendations won't be made public until a public meeting scheduled for 4 p.m to 8 p.m. March 12 at the Columbus Health Department Auditorium, 240 Parsons Ave.
"We've spent time in approximately 35 public meetings listening to people and taking over 500 surveys. It seems like these (preliminary concepts) are the best solutions," said Tim McDonald, a project manager for I-70/I-71 South Innerbelt Study.
Since the committee's inception in June, study participants, including ODOT and other civic and community groups, have been examining the stretch's traffic volume, accident levels, outdated design and need for additional on/off ramps.

Overburdened stretch

Built in the 1960s, the split was designed to handle 120,000 vehicle daily, not the 180,000 vehicles that travel through the area each day. ODOT data shows the split has been the site of 1,225 accidents from 1999 to 2000 or about two a day.
"The two biggest factors are the accidents and the congestion," said Michelle May, ODOT spokeswoman. "Clearly, the concept we unveil will closely mirror the concept suggestions we've received from people in the community. Some people think we should reroute traffic, maybe to (routes ) 104, 315, and (Interstate) 670.
"Some people think signs are confusing in the downtown corridor. Some people think we should put a cap over the freeways and make the bridges more pedestrian friendly so people are not afraid to walk over them. And some people have talked about adding capacity to the freeway either by widening or decking," May said.
William Habig, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, believes any plan should address the volume of traffic in the stretch.
"It needs widening, and some of the interchanges need to be assessed as to whether we should have so many on ramps in such a short distance," he said, voicing support for the ODOT effort.
The committee has also looked into suggestions calling for light rail or mass transit, as well as suggestions calling for rerouting of truck traffic.

Economy suffers

In addition to improving motorist safety, city officials and business leaders view an improved split as an economic necessity, citing the need for goods and services to move more easily through the central city.
"The economic development – the vitality – of our city is affected by transportation," said Mike Brown, a spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.
"When you consider that an estimated 30 percent of freight in Ohio goes through the 70-71 split, it gives you a sense of the impact on cost of moving goods and services and our potential to grow this important part of our economy," said Bill Burns, senior vice president for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. "The congestion is costing Columbus businesses every day, and it has the potential to cost our future economic growth in significant ways."
The traffic snarls also discourage potential workers from filling downtown jobs, some suggest.
"It's about 10 years overdue,"said Jeff Knoll, Parsons Avenue Merchants Association coordinator. "The split is a death trap."

No quick fix

Financing for any improvements, May said, has not been determined.
"In the case of the downtown split, we are doing preliminary work now, but any project probably will not be constructed and funded for another eight years," May said.
However, it is possible short-term solutions could be offered by the reopening if I-670 this fall, she said.
Also, ODOT will be doing some restriping and resigning on the interstates at the split to improve traffic conditions. Additionally, a night repaving project is scheduled in May for I-70 from West Broad Street through the split, she said.
For its part, city officials are ready to move forward. "The city is committed to working together with ODOT and everyone else in the region to make sure the traffic can flow... and 70-71 has become somewhat notorious," Brown said. The first priority should be safety, but the traffic needs to move.