I-70/71 split could get cap
ODOT still considering reconstruction choices for Downtown highway

COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Debbie Gebolys 

State transportation officials said this week that a cap, similar to the one being constructed in the Short North, could be part of a massive reconstruction at the I-70/71 split south of Downtown.

The idea for S. High Street is among those that Ohio Department of Transportation officials are proposing as they prepare to spend $500 million to rebuild the most-dangerous stretch of interstate in Ohio.

Construction of the first High Street cap, over I-670 between Downtown and the Short North, is expected to be completed early next year. It is to house shops and restaurants.

That cap drew national attention from city and transportation planners as an innovative way to keep highways from deterring pedestrians and cutting off business districts.

A cap over I-70/71 could connect the area around the Franklin County Courthouse in a similar fashion to German Village and the Brewery District.

"There has been a ton of interest in a cap on High Street, and we’re very interested in it," said Tim McDonald, ODOT project manager. "We very much see the potential for that."

Developer Jeff Edwards of Eclipse Real Estate began seeking support for the idea more than two years ago, suggesting that it could hold an office building near the courthouse.

But ODOT won’t commit to a second High Street cap until plans for the changes at the split are completed, spokeswoman Michelle May said.

Construction for that work is expected to begin in 2007.

To eliminate all required lane changes and merges through the split, ramps at Front, High and 4 th streets would be eliminated, McDonald said. Instead, ramps would be at Rt. 315 and I-71. They would move vehicles between the highway and up to a retooled, suspended Livingston Avenue and Fulton Street. Doing so would require additional traffic lights at several Downtown intersections.

German Village resident John Gideon says ODOT’s plans are bad for areas surrounding the split, and for the city.

"All this will do is expand the highway for more cars and more pollution," said Gideon, president of the Central Ohio Bicycle Advocacy Coalition. "This is just terrible. There is nothing people-friendly about it."

But Jim Tinker, executive director of the Brewery District Association, said ODOT officials have been sensitive to requests from businesses and residents.

"Along the Fulton and Livingston corridors, we want to ensure that they understand that it needs to be pedestrian-friendly and business-friendly," Tinker said. "And one of our concerns is parking."

Already, some changes have been made. McDonald said officials added parking meters along Livingston and Fulton after community meetings. They also changed earlier plans that would have had only one highway exit Downtown.

ODOT also plans to take unusual measures to avoid the 15,000 to 20,000 structures close to the project area. Plans call for taking a portion of Dodge Park, a Hertz car-rental building and an abandoned building on Fulton. Two city-owned buildings on Short Street also would be in the path of the roadway.

Fulton and Livingston would become three-lane, one-way streets, partially suspended above I-70/71. The roads would be supported by cables attached to spires in the middle of the highway.

Plans also call for up to $5 million for benches, trees and other beautification elements along Livingston and Fulton.

Officials expect to refine plans after public response and have more detailed plans by early next year.

dgebolys@dispatch.com