I-70/71 split options are narrowed
ThisWeek Staff Writer

The Ohio Department of Transportation has reached agreement with the city of Columbus on how to reconfigure the east section of the Interstate 70/71 split downtown, but more study is being done to the section that will affect traffic flow in and out of German Village.

Last week, ODOT announced its plans for the leg of the split that extends along I-71 from roughly I-670 to just south of Main Street.

"Under our proposal, we eliminate the Broad Street exit," said ODOT spokeswoman Michelle May. "We'll still have Spring Street and Main Street (exits) ... and will use cross streets parallel to the city streets to connect people" to those exits.

The plan for the east side of the split calls for creating one-way connector roads along the existing Parsons and Lester streets, which run alongside I-71; Parsons will be northbound, and Lester southbound.

According to ODOT, the streets will provide access to both the freeway and downtown streets.

"That's the only option being considered for that section," said May. "Over the next six months we'll work with the community to refine that design," she said, adding that ODOT will try to position the connectors closer to the freeway and possibly limit them to two lanes.

May said conversations with neighbors will help decide enhancements, such as a possible cap over part of the freeway, similar to that over I-670 along High Street.

On the other side of the split, which covers the section where I-70 and I-71 overlap, state and local officials remain divided over the options, May said.

ODOT is recommending two alternatives, which would reconstruct one-way connectors along Livingston and Fulton streets or along Mound and Fulton streets. Both configurations are similar to what ODOT is planning with Parsons and Lester.

However, City and county officials want ODOT to continue studying a third option called the Grand Boulevard, which would build a two-way city street over the westbound lanes of I-70.

But ODOT officials say the Grand Boulevard has a lower safety rating, "constructability flaws" and is more expensive. According to an ODOT news release, the design requires closing off downtown access during construction, diverting trucks and cars from the freeway onto downtown streets past the construction zone.

The Grand Boulevard option also would increase construction costs by about $100-million above the projected $675-million cost.

"We'll be holding a workshop with state and national experts to ... decide between these options," said May.

While German Village officials are not specifically opposed to the options being proposed for the south section of the split, they don't want traffic flow into the village obstructed.

"We consider the main entrance into German Village to be Third Street," said Jody Graichen, director of historic preservation programs for the German Village Society. "We want to know how that (the reconfiguration) would change that. ... We're concerned about our connectivity to downtown."

According to maps of the options, Third Street, along with High and Front streets, would still provide access to German Village. But the way those roads connect to the east-west collector streets (Mound and Fulton, or Livingston and Fulton) could interrupt traffic flow directly from downtown into German Village.

Graichen also said noise and pollution during construction, along with temporary detours, are a concern.

"We get a lot of travelers from downtown, and tourists," she said.

May said all the alternatives untangle the I-70/71 overlap by rebuilding the interchanges at state Route 315 and I-71 and changing the location of travel lanes for each highway.

According to ODOT, the downtown split is one of the most congested, high-crash freeways in the state. It carries about 175,000 vehicles a day -- 50,000 more than it was designed for in the 1950s. Statistics show that about 800 crashes occur per year.