Rebuilt I-70/71 split likely will stay put
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Debbie Gebolys

Rerouting I-70 south of Downtown to Rt. 104 won’t work, highway officials say.

A $500 million project to rebuild the most dangerous stretch of highway in Ohio will likely leave it where it is, just south of Downtown. The I-70/71 split is scheduled to be rebuilt beginning in 2008 or 2009; officials are trying to determine the best remedy for the overcrowded, accident-prone stretch.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials said yesterday that diverting I-70 to overlap Rt. 104 would disconnect Grant Medical Center, Children’s Hospital and Mount Carmel West from the highway system that now provides quick access to them. A rerouted I-70 also would disrupt two West Side cemeteries.

Engineers now must decide whether to keep Downtown ramps serving I-70, or reduce or remove them. ODOT officials have said that removing the ramps would make travel through the split smoother and safer. But a member of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission said yesterday that he favors maintaining access to Downtown.

Consultants are to introduce several ideas at the commission’s meeting today, including one that would expand the interchange at Third and Fourth streets.

It could require demolition of the Livingston Avenue United Methodist Church and the adjacent Columbus Africentric School.

"We can’t be certain that it affects the buildings," said the commission’s executive director, Bill Habig. "But it’s not the only way to do it. There are alternatives that don’t damage buildings."

He said he’ll work to keep the interchange.

"I’ve been the foremost advocate of keeping that interchange," Habig said. "That interchange needs to stay, for neighborhood access and neighborhood economic development."

Columbus hired the regional planning commission last year to study whether to convert most Downtown streets from oneway to two-way traffic. The group and the city also asked their consultants to devise highway plans of their own.

Despite disagreements about Downtown ramps, ODOT is willing to work with the city and the commission, ODOT spokeswoman Michelle May said.
"We might have different primary focuses, but we are aware that we must find common ground," she said.

ODOT plans to select one or two highway designs by July. The city’s study of Downtown streets could be completed by Aug. 1, officials said, depending on which highway options ODOT chooses for further evaluation.

ODOT originally rejected using Rt. 104 last year, citing studies that said few drivers would willingly take the detour. At the request of Columbus officials and others, ODOT agreed to reconsider.

Replacing I-70 through Downtown with a landscaped parkway would create other problems as well, ODOT Project Manager Tim McDonald said.
"The 150,000 people a day who are now using I-70 would then be using a boulevard," he said."We don’t want to be putting more traffic in neighborhoods. We’d rather keep that on the freeways."