Highway plan aims to simplify traffic flow

Options in and out of Downtown will be fewer, but the commute should be easier

Saturday, January 24, 2009 3:07 AM
By Debbie Gebolys


Look at it this way: The Downtown highway system now is a mess of spaghetti that someone dropped on the kitchen floor. The Downtown highway system of the future will be neatly arranged lengths of lasagna.

The state wants to simplify I-70/71, first by eliminating the ramps that force drivers into too many merges and lane changes.

By the time the $1.6 billion project is finished in 2017, the new 10-lane freeway will no longer have exit ramps at 3rd, 4th, 18th, Front and Broad streets or Livingston Avenue Downtown.

The result is that drivers will have to get used to exiting the freeway earlier than they do now. If not, they'll drive right through Downtown.

They will exit at the edges of Downtown on Fulton and Mound streets, Lester Drive and Parsons Avenue, all one-way streets which will be the conduits to other Downtown streets.

The four access streets will have 25 mph speed limits and traffic lights. Parsons, Mound and Fulton will be three lanes and Lester will be two lanes, Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Burton said. All will allow drivers to turn at cross streets.

The configuration comes seven years after officials started planning how to fix the 2-mile I-70/71 corridor Downtown, one of the most dangerous in the state.

"The I-70/71 overlap section has a crash rate 10 times the state average," ODOT officials wrote. "Traffic volumes now exceed the design volume by more than 50,000 vehicles per day."

The highway opened in the 1970s and by 1986, traffic had exceeded capacity.

Even so, some don't like the plan.

Olde Towne East residents object to further separating their stately homes east of I-71 from those to the west.

David Fleischer, a 15-year Olde Towne resident, said he had hoped the reconfiguration would help reconnect the neighborhood to Downtown. "But rather than do that," he said, "they're making the swath wider, and I don't think that's healthy."

"It just promotes vehicle traffic into and out of the city," Fleischer said. He lives a short walk from a Parsons Avenue commercial strip that will see two businesses demolished for the project.

Gary Wahlers, owner of Voda Hair Design, 81 Parsons Ave., said his lease expires in May and he's not sure he'll renew. ODOT plans a highway access street behind his shop and awfully close to his back door.

"I think it's horrible," Wahlers said. "It just dissects the neighborhood more and makes us even less pedestrian-friendly."

ODOT has vowed to try to build "caps" -- wider bridges and swaths of green spaces -- over the highways to better connect communities on both sides of I-71 and I-70. Wahlers and others doubt money for the caps will be available.

"If they did caps, I wouldn't mind it so much," Wahlers said. "If I didn't see it, hear it or smell it, it would be all right."

Parsons Avenue also will lose E.T. Paul Tire Co. to make room for the wider access street paralleling I-71 on the east. Mike Paul, whose great-grandfather opened the family business as a blacksmith shop in 1895, isn't grousing and isn't going out of business.

"In the next couple of years, I don't see us doing anything," he said. Later, "Wherever we go, we won't be far."

The first task of the reconfiguration will start on I-670 and I-71 in 2011.

There will be a pause in work during 2012 while the city celebrates its bicentennial; construction will resume in 2013. A Franklinton phase, as yet unscheduled, would begin sometime after 2017 to rebuild the I-70/71 interchange at Rt. 315.

"We have no idea when that will happen, or if it will happen," Burton said.

That phase could take another 22 buildings, including the vacant Bellows Avenue School, a Hertz warehouse and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building that border Dodge Park. Seven commercial buildings along Harmon Avenue would also go, as would 14 homes on Campbell and Thomas avenues.

Burton didn't say when the state would begin negotiating to buy the properties.


In the way

The state would need to buy land and buildings on more than 130 parcels for street widening and other construction to reconfigure I-70/71, including:

Structures to be demolished

• E.T. Paul Tire Co., 123 Parsons Ave., tire shop

• Carabar, 115 Parsons Ave., nightclub

• City of Columbus Short Street garage

Properties losing some land

• Columbus Africentric School, 300 E. Livingston Ave., 2.5 acres of athletic fields

• American Electric Power substation and support center on Mound Street

Properties losing parking spaces

• Franklin University, lot near Mound Street, 120 spaces

• Americana Apartments, 380 S. 5th St., 40 spaces

• Office building, 255 E. Main St., 40 spaces

• Franklin County Children Services intake office, 525 E. Mound St., 30 spaces

Source: Ohio Department of Transportation


Downtown shuffle

You have a few years before the reconfiguration of I-70/71 Downtown is finished, but it doesn't hurt to familiarize yourself now with the fewer exits planned. You'll have to exit onto one of four one-way streets -- Fulton and Mound streets, Parsons Avenue and Lester Drive -- that will connect with the rest of Downtown streets.

Some changes in exits that Downtown-bound drivers will encounter:

From the west on I-70: Instead of the Front/High streets exit and the 3rd/4th streets exit, you'll get off the freeway on the new Fulton Street at the Franklin County Courthouse.

From the east on I-70: Instead of the 4th Street exit, you'll get off about a mile sooner on the Mound Street exit near Nationwide Children's Hospital.

From the north on I-71: Instead of the Spring, Broad and Main streets exits, you'll take a new exit at Spring Street that will send you south on Lester Drive.

From the north on Rt. 315: You will turn east onto I-70 as usual but then exit onto Fulton at the courthouse.

From the south on I-71: Instead of the usual exits on eastbound I-70, you will also connect with Fulton at the courthouse. You can keep going east on Fulton to connect with Parsons to reach Broad and other Downtown streets.

Source: Ohio Department of Transportation