ThisWeek Staff Writer

Members of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission received an update on the status of the Interstate 70-71 split study during their July 12 meeting and were told the Ohio Department of Transportation has narrowed its alternatives for the project down to two.

Thom Slack, 70-71 split project manager with the ODOT District 6 office, said that while progress might seem slow and "we may not be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we're certainly seeing the tunnel."

The three key areas to address in the project include untangling the overlap of traffic where the two interstate highways meet, consolidating ramps and adding through lanes.

"70-71 right now, if you are downtown, if you are entering it from the south, you are entering 71 on the right, you need to get across a couple of lanes of traffic to the left to continue north on 71 up towards the fairgrounds. Then once you get on that leg of 71, you've got to dive back over to the right, crossing over traffic again to continue north on 71," Slack said. He noted that a similar situation exists for drivers on I-70 downtown, who have to work their way across traffic from left to right to remain on I-70.

Slack said the concept is simple.

"By doing what we are calling an Extreme Makeover of both interchanges on both ends, we are going to be able to untangle the overlap. Where 71 comes in on the right, 71 exits on the right, as it passes through the downtown area," he said.

The plan also calls for the consolidation and relocation of ramps, reducing the number of ramps to and from the freeway system in the downtown area from 17 to 10.

"We also want to relocate them to areas where we have better control over how that traffic is weaving with the traffic that is also moving in and out of downtown on the freeway."

Adding through lanes will create five lanes in each direction in the downtown area with two lanes on the outside dedicated to I-71. Two lanes on the inside will be dedicated to I-70 and the lane in the middle will give drivers the option of going to I-70, I-71 or Route 315.

Slack said the alternatives have been narrowed down to two options - the Livingston-Fulton Alternative and the Mound-Fulton Alternative.

"As we looked at our analysis, both are very close in terms of freeway operation," Slack said. "There are a couple of things that differentiate between the two because of the footprint. First and foremost is impact to historic resources. The Mound Alternative, by nature, by moving everything toward downtown, does take away from having impacts on the Brewery District, German Village as well as the Livingston Methodist Church and the Africentric School on the south side of the freeway. Any option that allows us to avoid resources like that gets a favored status."

Slack said to expect an enhanced 70-71 split.

"We don't build freeways like this (existing interstates) any more," Slack said. "670 has essentially set the bar as to what the appearance of an urban-type freeway, especially in this area, is going to look like...It comes in with streetscape, landscaping, lighting, fencing. The idea of some of those cleaner finishes rather than your Spartan looking piers and cobra-head lights."

Slack said caps like those constructed over I-670 linking downtown and the Short North are also part of the plan.

"ODOT is looking to set the retaining walls in such a way that in the future they would be able to support future capping throughout the corridor," he said.

Areas identified for potential caps include Front Street to Grant on the south part of downtown and from Main to Spring along the east leg.

"We have the potential to cap anywhere if not necessarily everywhere," Slack said.