Residents offer views on I-70/71 proposals
Some fear rebuilding won’t solve problems
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Dean Narciso

The diagrams were complex and the analysis steeped in transportation theory.

Still, residents and commuters sought answers to the basics: Will it be safe? Will it be attractive? How much will it cost?
About 35 people turned out last night for the first of at least three public meetings to discuss rebuilding the I-70/71 interchange.

The mammoth project will take at least four years to complete, will cost at least $425 million and will affect the commuting lives of thousands, especially those working and living Downtown.

Four alternatives have been proposed, ranging from improving the current urban highway system to converting various roads that are parallel to the freeway into feeder roads that would channel traffic to the interstate.
Some residents of German Village said they’re concerned about vehicles merging at high speeds.

"Any mixing of 70/71 traffic has been minimized, and made much safer," explained Valerie Croasmun, an administrator with the Ohio Department of Transportation. "It’s a much safer freeway."

After repeatedly asking Croasmun if the problem would be eliminated, one resident, who wouldn’t give his name, said, "It’s still high-speed weaving. That’s undesirable.

"You have to be looking three or four places simultaneously," he said as he walked away.
Andrew Houser, a five-year resident of Shumacher Place, east of German Village, was more optimistic.
"This could shape the future for the next 30 years," he said, explaining why he showed up.

Houser opposes any plans that could divide neighborhoods and destroy the vitality of the inner city.
"Is it going to make Downtown more of a wasteland because people can get in and out more easily?"
Houser, who works in the Brewery District, said the plans are "an opportunity to better what we’ve got, not necessarily heal it over."

Department of Transportation officials have said that improved sidewalks and elements of urban renewal, similar to the cap over I-670 between the Short North and Downtown, could be woven into designs.

"The incremental cost is not a lot compared to the overall cost of the project and would be easy to incorporate," said Thom Slack, department project manager.

Officials have said the ambitious plans cannot answer the concerns of everyone.

David Kovalchik, a self-described "highway enthusiast," was impressed "at how complete and thorough they are about changing things."

The resident of the Far West Side added, "I’m not used to having really nice-looking freeways in Columbus, like they have in Dallas and other cities."

Neither the city nor the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission have endorsed any of the proposals.

Whatever the final design, it will affect someone, said Bill Habig, MORPC executive director.
"Everybody looks at it from their perspective as they see the world," Habig said. "I don’t think there is anything that is going to severely disrupt or that wouldn’t be feasible from a traffic standpoint or anything else."
Dispatch reporter Tim Doulin contributed to this story.