I-70/71 reconstruction
Front Street ideas discussed at meeting

This Week/German Village  
February 15, 2007
 
By SUE HAGAN
ThisWeek Staff Writer 
 
Although the Front Street bridge over I-70/71 won't get an elaborate cap during the makeover of the freeway split, improvements will make it more pedestrian friendly. And a decision will soon be made as to whether Livingston Avenue will become a one-way collector road.
 
Questions on those two topics dominated the Feb. 7 Brewery District Society meeting, during a presentation by representatives of the Ohio Department of Transportation and its design consultant.
 
Residents have said they would like a Front Street freeway cap with buildings and green space to create a smooth transition between the Brewery District and downtown.
 
But given limited funding, ODOT and its consultant are proposing a more modest streetscape feature, and opting instead for a "grand gateway" treatment along the exit ramp from the freeway.
 
"Because ramps at Third and Fourth (streets) will be removed, Front is a major gateway from the west," said Darren Meyer, a senior associate with MSI, a landscape architecture and urban planning company located in the Brewery District. He said that downtown businesses have pushed for distinctive architectural treatments at the exits to Front and Spring streets, and Parsons Avenue, to play up their roles as entrances to the city.
 
At the same time, Meyer said, the Front Street crossing itself -- and those of the 12 other streets that cross the split -- could be improved on a pedestrian scale. Within the ODOT budget, $37-million has been earmarked for streetscape improvements to the crossings.
 
"When you cross over the freeway right now, it's unpleasant," said Meyer, during an interview after the meeting. "There's noise, wind and the views aren't good."
 
He said ODOT's "baseline plan" for each crossing widens the sidewalks and uses such elements as green space and sculptures to separate them from the curved fencing that today is the prominent feature.
 
"(Improvements) will make that gulf, which is pretty barren and noisy, more pleasant," said Meyer. The plan also calls for supports to be made strong enough to support future freeway caps, which could be built if funding becomes available.
 
So far, ODOT has committed $10-million outside its construction budget for caps and the grand gateways, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has promised $12-million; the cost is estimated at $85- to $110-million.
 
ODOT spokesperson Michelle May said community interest in caps and gateways is on the rise.
 
"We have about $22-million, and will very possibly get at least double that over the next six months," she said, adding that city and county officials are looking for more funding sources.
 
Construction is slated to begin in 2010 on the $850-million highway reconstruction project, which ODOT officials say will untangle the overlap of I-70 and I-71. Now, drivers have to shift lanes to get to exit ramps, and the section has seen hundreds of accidents.
 
ODOT's solution eliminates a number of ramps, and has motorists exiting only at the downtown boundaries.
 
On the south side section of the split, one-way city streets parallel to the freeway would be reconstructed along either Mound and Fulton streets or Livingston Avenue and Fulton to serve east and west traffic into and out of downtown.
 
ODOT is still discussing pros and cons, and plans to make its recommendation next month, said Tom Slack, ODOT planning manager for the I-70/71 project.
 
"Mound is better from an environmental standpoint and for traffic flow," he said, adding that Livingston encroaches more on historic neighborhoods.
 
"And regarding economic development, the city says Mound is slightly better," he said.
 
On the flip side, if Mound is chosen exit ramps would have to be built diagonally across the freeway, which complicates construction, Slack said.
 
In addition, choosing Mound would affect the large Miranova development and ODOT would have to purchase property between Grant and Fifth streets to reconnect Mound.
 
If Livingston is chosen, the roadway will overlap the present Livingston from the exit ramp to about Fourth Street, then will veer slightly left to run alongside the freeway.
 
That option has Brewery District residents concerned about noise and increased traffic through their neighborhood.
 
May said ODOT will soon make its preliminary recommendation, and residents will have 30 days to respond before a final decision is made.