Rankings of 4 plans for split unveiled
ODOT seeks reaction to ideas for fixing I-70/71 Downtown
Friday, July 29, 2005
Tim Doulin

Under all options being considered to fix the I-70/71 split, some Downtown exit and entrance ramps will be closed or moved to safer locations.

Motorists still will be able to access Downtown destinations, but they will be doing it a different way, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"We are changing the access, but you can still get there," said Michelle May, spokeswoman for ODOT.

Three options being considered by the state would have exit and entrance ramps just before interchanges at Rt. 315, at the I-70-71 split and I-670 at I-71.

Local traffic would be funneled onto "collector-distributor streets" that run parallel to the freeway but provide access to Downtown streets. Once passing the exits and entrances that separate out local traffic, through traffic would not be allowed to exit until clearing the corridor.

State transportation officials have ranked several plans to fix the I-70/71 split — considered one of the worst traffic headaches in Ohio.

Before any barrels go up, ODOT will take the plans to public meetings.

"This next month is very important," said Thomas H. Slack, project manager for ODOT. "We are not saying this is what we intend to do. We are saying ‘This is what we see the analysis showing, do you agree?’ "

ODOT spent several months analyzing four alternatives for fixing the split, which carries about 175,000 vehicles a day — about 50,000 more than it was designed to serve when built in the 1960s.

Each plan was judged on how it would improve safety, accessibility and traffic flow to Downtown and how it would affect the environment and the community.

ODOT said it hopes to have a final design by February and begin construction in 2008. About $425 million is set aside for construction, though the various alternatives are estimated to cost as much as $720 million.

Here is how ODOT scored the plans, from top to bottom:

• Make Livingston Avenue and Fulton Street, on the south leg, and Lester and Parsons avenues, on the east leg, one-way streets that collect traffic from the freeway and distribute it to cross streets Downtown.

The option scored well in four of five categories and received the highest possible score in four categories because of its ability to improve safety, traffic flow and accessibility.

• Use a similar alternative with Mound and Fulton streets, on the south leg as one-way streets to collect and distribute freeway traffic. It also scored well in four of five categories and received the highest possible score in three.

• Make Fulton and Lester two-way collector-distributor streets that run along the freeway. This scored well in three of five categories, but would require wider, morecomplex intersections that could create less-efficient traffic flow and some problems for pedestrians.

• Create Downtown interchanges at 3 rd/4 th streets and Spring/Long streets. The option scored lower because the ramp locations are considered less safe and efficient in managing traffic.

Under any scenario, I-70/71 will have to be "untangled" by rebuilding interchanges where the two interstates meet east of Downtown and where they meet Rt. 315 to the west, according to ODOT.

Also an additional lane for I-71 would be built and a "choice lane" would be added to allow motorists to go to either I-70 or I-71. Ramps will be consolidated and moved to safer areas.

There are complaints already.

Katharine Moore, executive director of the German Village Society, said the society is concerned about the "lack of innovation in any of these plans."

There also is some confusion over how German Village would be affected by the plan that involves Livingston Avenue, Moore said.

She said the society plans to review the plans with a traffic engineer it hired before members meet with ODOT.

Plans that involve creating one-way streets are unacceptable, said Columbus City Councilwoman Maryellen O’Shaughnessy, because those plans would create barriers between Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

"The decisions made now are decisions that are going to affect the quality of life and your ability to do business Downtown for the next 50 years," she said. "We have got to do it right."

ODOT says it will try to address all concerns.

"Let’s sit down and talk about how each individual neighborhood and business is impacted and what improvements we can make in developing some of these concepts," May said.

To reduce the price, ODOT will try to whittle costs as the design is finalized or build the highway in phases as more money becomes available, May said.

The first public meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Monday at the Columbus Health Department. ODOT also plans to meet with city and county officials as well as business and neighborhood groups.