SPLITTING HEADACHE
Transportation officials keep eye on road to improving freeway junction Downtown

Published: Thursday, August 19, 2004

EDITORIAL & COMMENT 14A

The Ohio Department of Transportation is down to three solutions to the problem of the I-70/71 split, any one of which would improve the safety of this dangerous section of the Innerbelt.

Credit the department for its diligence: It has worked on many plans for at least two years, returning to the drawing board again and again to ensure that as many alternatives as possible would be considered. And throughout the process, state officials have kept the public involved, seeking input from community organizations, local government leaders and residents and businesses in the area.

More public hearings are planned as ODOT enters the home stretch in the planning phase. Officials want to make their final recommendation in the winter. It could combine elements of the three remaining alternatives.

Some earlier intriguing suggestions that would have required the building of tunnels and decks have been dropped, because they would be the most expensive. No matter how appealing a design might be, the cash-strapped state and federal governments aren't in a position to choose such solutions.

Doing nothing is not an option, however. ODOT calculates that each day, the I-70/71 split is navigated by 175,000 vehicles, 50,000 more than the lanes were designed to handle. About two accidents per day compound the congestion, considered the worst on any section of freeway in Ohio.

Although the people and businesses using the many ramps linking Downtown to the split aren't keen on losing any of those ramps, the safer alternatives might be those that eliminate all or virtually all of the ramps in the 1.5-mile stretch where I-70 and I-71 share pavement.

Instead of using many ramps, drivers would follow lanes along one-way streets at the edges of the banks above the freeway until they reach ramps for I-70 or I-71, depending on which freeway they want to use.

This design is known as a collector-distributor road system, because cars are brought together and distributed before they use ramps designed for the specific freeway direction they wish to travel.

The split today features many crossovers on the freeway, as drivers weave their way into the correct lanes to take them onto I-70 or I-71.

For the next few years, ODOT has marked the split section to restrict some of these crossovers from certain ramps, but drivers don't necessarily obey.

These restrictions will bring temporary relief, at best, as the number of vehicles continues to grow.

As transportation officials scrutinize the three alternatives, designs that can deliver the easiest and safest traffic flow for as long as possible should be given priority.