ODOT to pick plan for I-70/I-71
Six proposals being considered to relieve heavy congestion along 1.9-mile split Downtown
Friday, March 14, 2003

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Friday, March 14, 2003
Brian Williams

Triple-deck roadways and rerouted interstates are among the options for easing the nightly crush of cars trying to squeeze onto I-70 Downtown.

The Ohio Department of Transportation unveiled a half-dozen ideas on Wednesday for fixing the 1.9-mile stretch of I-70/I-71, but the project is at least eight years in the future and could cost $400 million or more.

"We need to choose an option this year,'' said Tim McDonald, ODOT's project manager for the South Innerbelt Study. "This is the most congested stretch of highway in the state. We're not going to put our planning on hold.''

From 1999 through 2001, an average of 1,225 accidents occurred each year along the corridor. About 32 percent of the crashes involved injuries and, on average, there were fewer than three fatalities per year.

The stretch carries as many 175,000 vehicles a day. It was designed to accommodate 120,000. Traffic peaks at 7 a.m. and remains at near-peak levels until 7 p.m., according to an ODOT analysis.

Jack Marchbanks, ODOT's deputy director for central Ohio, said the options for fixing the problem came in large part from 530 citizen comments at meetings and on the www.7071study.org Web site.

Bill Ferrell of Bexley offered this suggestion: "Impose tractor-trailer restrictions in the split. If the truck has no business within the Downtown area, it must use the Outerbelt.''

His idea was among those that made the cut.

Through community meetings, ODOT will pick the top three alternatives by July, making a final decision by Thanksgiving, Marchbanks said.

These alternatives were presented:

  • Upgrade Rt. 104 as an alternative to I-70 through Downtown. This would require a connection to I-70 to the east, possibly using an existing right of way from Rt. 33 to James Road.

  • Build a connection from Rt. 104 to I-70 through the current site of Cooper Stadium west of Downtown. McDonald said that would occur only as an addition to the first option.

  • Reroute I-71 onto I-670 and Rt. 315 to relieve congestion through the corridor. McDonald said that might require new lanes on those highways, where the long-delayed Spring-Sandusky Interchange improvements are nearing completion.

  • Add lanes to the I-70 and I-71 stretch south of Downtown. But ODOT is determined not to demolish any buildings Downtown or in German Village. That could mean a decked highway -- with two decks for highway traffic and a a middle deck to allow Front, High, 3rd, 4th and Grant streets to cross the highway.

The cost would be extremely high and it would be so aesthetically unpleasing,'' McDonald said.

  • Add truck-only through lanes in the split. McDonald said that poses some of the same challenges as the decks. One other way to add lanes is to widen the highway and rebuild parts of Livingston Avenue and Fulton Street as decks above the new lanes.

About 30 percent of all truck freight through Ohio uses the the split, according to ODOT, but that is a fraction of the corridor's traffic. Nearly 75 percent of the traffic is strictly local.

  • Improve traffic management and transit, with light rail, bus system expansion and rerouting of trucks out of Downtown. McDonald said that option, by itself, would not solve the problems, but could be combined with any option.

McDonald also said ongoing improvements to area highways, including new lanes and new stretches of I-670 connecting I-70 to I-71, are not a long-term solution to congestion.

He added that even if much of the traffic is rerouted out of the existing corridor, the split would have to be rebuilt. It is 40 years old and does not meet modern highway-design standards.

"Reducing the number of ramps would be part of any solution,'' he said. "We will rebuild the corridor and we will not put in what is there today. We will rip it out and replace it.''