Blend of three ideas also may be answer for clogged interstate south of Downtown

Published: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 NEWS 06B
By Tim Doulin

After months of study, state highway officials have pared the number of proposals to fix the I-70/71 split Downtown to three.

Officials did not rule out taking the best ideas from each of the proposals to create a final design.

"People are debating 'How should we do it?' rather than 'Why should we do it?' That's where we are now,'' said Jack Marchbanks, deputy director for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Built in the 1960s, the 1.5-mile stretch that separates Downtown from German Village and the Brewery District is the most congested and accident-prone freeway in the state, according to ODOT.

About 175,000 vehicles -- or about 50,000 more than it was designed to handle -- travel the highway each day. The traffic results in an average of two accidents a day.

The three proposals would either rebuild the corridor or untangle or upgrade portions of the freeway, ODOT said. The proposals would add highway lanes to reduce lane changes and merges and create highway access roads.

A meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at the Columbus Health Department, 240 Parsons Ave., to gather feedback on the proposals from the public.

"In the next phase, we are going to be working through a lot of detailed issues -- flushing out exactly what the corridor will look like, number of ramps, how wide does the freeway have to be -- and compare all of these very carefully and then reach a decision by the end of this year,'' said Tim McDonald, project manager for ODOT.

Eight proposals had been under review since February, and several community meetings were held. Five other options have been eliminated.

Options that involved building a tunnel under the existing highway or constructing streets on a deck over the highway were rejected because of cost, design issues and problems maintaining traffic during construction, McDonald said.

A proposal to reroute I-70 traffic to Rt. 104 also was eliminated. That proposal would have meant disrupting some residential communities on the East Side and a cemetery and some light-industrial sites south of Cooper Stadium. It also would have removed freeway access to Downtown hospitals.

"Some things such as the (Rt.) 104 (proposal) sounds good on its face,'' said Gordon Proctor, ODOT director. "But when you look into the detail, it doesn't really solve the problem and costs a lot of money.''

Construction is expected to begin in 2008 and take several years to complete. The cost is expected to exceed $500 million.

The project will be paid for with federal and state tax dollars, Marchbanks said. Bonds may be used to finance the initial phases of the project.

"That way we don't have to pay for it all at once out of our stream of federal funding,'' Marchbanks said.

Cleveland, Toledo and the Cincinnati area have had similar high-priced freeway construction projects.

"We are sort of in an era where the interstates have totally surpassed their original concepts and we are basically having to rebuild them for another 30 years,'' Proctor said.