Published: Wednesday, August 11, 2004


By Tim Doulin


More than 40 years ago, the highway that was built through Columbus severed German Village from Downtown.

Katharine Moore refers to it as "a scar'' that reconfigured the way the neighborhood has related to Downtown ever since.

Now, the Ohio Department of Transportation is moving closer to a decision on a design to fix the I-70/71 split, a 1.5-mile stretch considered one of the most congested and accident-filled highways in the state.

To some, this is a chance to reconnect neighborhoods to Downtown.

"We do see the possibilities of creating some gateways into the neighborhoods -- the Brewery District, German Village and Olde Towne East,'' said Moore, executive director of the German Village Society.

Residents who attended a meeting last night at the Columbus Health Department had a chance to examine drawings of the three options under consideration for fixing the split.

The proposals, which were formally announced yesterday, either would rebuild the corridor or untangle or upgrade portions of the highway. The proposals would add highway lanes to reduce lane changes and merges and create highway access roads.

The three options -- pared from eight after months of study -- are "in line with a letter of recommendation'' that the German Village Society sent to ODOT, Moore said.

Moore said the society's first choice is to "flush out'' the "urbanized freeway system'' option, which would improve interchanges at Rt. 315 and I-71, add highway lanes and close or consolidate unsafe ramps but otherwise leave the highway and ramp system unchanged.

ODOT officials said they haven't ruled out the possibility of a final design that would combine the three options.

One solution to reconnecting German Village to Downtown is a "cap'' to run over the top of the highway, similar to one on N. High Street that connects Downtown to the Short North.

But ODOT would need a partner to help cover that cost.

"It is something we are interested in duplicating, but I don't want to mislead anyone -- it would not be ODOT money alone,'' said Michelle May, an ODOT spokeswoman.

Frank Wickham, a longtime German Village resident, likes the idea of a cap but understands paying for it would be an issue. The one over I-670 cost $1.3 million.

"Safety and better traffic flow, that's my main concern,'' Wickham said.

There is an average of two accidents a day on the corridor, ODOT officials said.

Brenda Gentry, an East Side resident who often travels the I-70/71 split with children from the day care she runs, has experienced the congestion and danger firsthand.

"You get some crazies who almost run you off the road,'' Gentry said.

ODOT expects to select a final design this winter and begin construction by 2008. Construction is expected to cost more than $500 million.

Donna Byrom, who lives on Neil Avenue just north of Downtown, favors leaving the corridor unchanged.

"I'm not denying there are safety issues, but there are other ways to solve safety issues other than throwing more pavement down,'' Byrom said.