Six I-70/71 caps still on city's wish list
Cost of overpasses: at least $53 million

Thursday,  July 19, 2007

By Tim Doulin

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

The city has identified six preferred locations to build caps over the I-70/71 freeway Downtown, but finding the money to build them remains an issue.

Spring, Long and Broad streets are favored sites for caps on the eastern leg of the project, and 3rd, High and Front streets on the southern leg.

It would cost an estimated $53 million to $65 million to build the six caps, which essentially are widened overpasses. They could include trees, even buildings. The more grand, the more expensive.

About $22 million is committed to the caps: $10 million from ODOT and $12 million from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

"Some caps are more expensive than others. Some have a higher priority, according to the public," said Mark Kelsey, the city's public-service director. "Obviously, we will factor that into our decision-making."

ODOT has the final say on the location and design, Kelsey said.

The department has $525 million earmarked to rebuild I-70 through Downtown and I-71 north to I-670. The plan is to expand the number of lanes on both stretches and eliminate much of the confusion and congestion caused by traffic entering and exiting the highway.

City and state officials and others think the caps will better connect nearby neighborhoods, such as the Near East Side, German Village and the Brewery District, with Downtown.

A dozen potential sites have been studied.

"I think there is a fairly strong consensus on what capping we would like to do," said Robert Milbourne, president of the Columbus Partnership, a civic-improvement group made up of central Ohio business leaders.

"The remaining issue is funding it."

A state loan to the city is a possible source of money. The city also hopes developers and the county will contribute money.

There is a cap over I-670 on N. High Street that has restaurants and shops. However, no final designs have been drawn for caps over I-70/71.

"What we like to see is those things that hide the freeway by creating, at the very least, wider sidewalks for folks to come across and some other amenities so you don't feel like you are coming across a freeway," ODOT spokesman Scott Varner said.

tdoulin@dispatch.com