ODOT seeks opinions on best fix for split High cost eliminates tunnel and cap options

Wednesday, June 09, 2004 Debbie Gebolys
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

 State highway officials want the public’s help to come up with the best way to fix the I-70/71 split Downtown.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials yesterday outlined eight proposals for rebuilding the 1.5 miles of congested, accident-prone highway that separates Downtown from German Village and the Brewery District. For the next month, ODOT is inviting comment on each scenario.

Two years into identifying possible cures, officials said yesterday that no new options can be added to the list.

"We’re not going to be looking to go down a new road," said Tim McDonald, ODOT project manager. "Our main goal is to fix the safety problem and be the best neighbor we can be."

To weed out alternatives, ODOT and its consultants scored each option against five criteria: cost, environmental and community impact, safety, local access and ease of use, and operational efficiency. Also high on the ODOT priority list is preserving existing buildings.

On that basis, officials are leaning toward three options that would add highway lanes to eliminate lane changes and merges and create highway access roads. Prices, estimated in 2010 dollars, range from $590 million to $720 million.

ODOT Deputy Director Jack Marchbanks said the final design could be a combination of the three plans.

Safety is the most important factor in the mix, he said, but "dollars are the final filter."

Costs removed two options from serious consideration. At more than $1 billion, a tunnel under the existing highway isn’t feasible. Neither is an $890 million idea to build streets on a deck over the highway.

Although none of the plans falls within the $500 million budget, ODOT spokeswoman Michelle May said the cheaper ones could be refined to bring down costs.

Two plans required demolishing too many buildings. A $690 million plan to widen the highway to add access roads and a $720 million rerouting of I-70 to connect with Rt. 104 received low rankings.

Many of the 100 people who attended said it’s difficult to determine a favorite. Others said easier fixes are possible.

Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, said he’s frustrated that ODOT rejected an option to reroute I-71 traffic to I-670, a plan ODOT officials said would require widescale building demolitions and wouldn’t repair the split.

"If you took all the traffic up to I-670, you solve this problem today," Davis said.

Some said ODOT isn’t sensitive to neighborhoods.

"It just doesn’t seem like they take the human aspect into consideration," said Ed Virtue of Olde Towne East. "From what I’ve seen, they’ll either make us another island or not do anything to help us."

Some area bicyclists said ODOT hasn’t considered them, either.

"Columbus has the opportunity to become a nice city for people who live here and not just people who drive through it," said Marcus Linckelmawn of Victorian Village.

ODOT will seek more opinions, online at www.dot.state .oh.us/7071 study/ and at meetings Monday and June 17. In July, ODOT will determine the top two or three options.

Construction is to begin in 2008.