Workshop on I-70/71 Split Proves to be Inconclusive
Thursday, March 30, 2006
By SUE HAGAN
This Week Staff Writer

A constructability workshop held March 23 did not produce enough detail for the city of Columbus and the Ohio Department of Transportation to conclude its discussions on whether the Grand Boulevard option is feasible as part of the I-70/71 split reconstruction.

Now, ODOT says it will talk some more with the city and make its recommendation in April on whether further study should be done or if the option should be dropped.

The Grand Boulevard, the alternative preferred by city officials, would be a two-way, eight-lane city street system decked over portions of the westbound freeway to serve traffic traveling between the freeway and downtown.

ODOT has objected to the option on the grounds that it is more expensive, would take longer to complete than other options, could be less efficient and dangerous in moving traffic and would divert traffic onto downtown streets during construction.

Instead, the state wants to untangle the split by developing one-way collector streets, along Fulton Street and either Livingston Avenue or Mound Street.

City and state officials have agreed on a solution similar to that for the east section of the split, along I-71 between Main Street and I-670.

Columbus Public Service Director Henry Guzman was not available to comment on what the city still wants to know about the Grand Boulevard option, but he said through an assistant that his staff is studying the issue.

City officials and other proponents have said the alternative would reconnect surrounding neighborhoods to downtown and could include sidewalks and shops, similar to the cap over I-670 in the Short North.

In a letter e-mailed Monday to government officials and other stakeholders, ODOT Project Manager Tom Slack said ODOT will meet with city leaders to review findings and conclusions from the workshop, which included input by state and national construction experts.

"Unfortunately, the meeting did not reveal the definitive results needed to convince the city to draw the Grand Boulevard discussion to a close," Slack wrote.

"Contractors were able to say with certainty the Grand Boulevard will be more difficult, time consuming and costly to build. It will also require a larger diversion of downtown traffic.

"However, they could not quantify the difference without more detailed designs. It would likely take ODOT another six months to a year to provide this level of detail for the alternatives," he wrote.

According to the letter, workshop participants said the Grand Boulevard would, among other things:
* add at least a year of time to construction.
* require the use of piers in the median for the length of the project, resulting in increased cost, duration and traffic delay.
* give ODOT fewer options in construction methods, and fewer opportunities to maintain traffic on existing streets, cross streets and the freeway.
* require more room to build and decrease the efficiency of construction operations.

Earlier ODOT officials estimated that the Grand Boulevard would cost about $155-million more than its preferred option.

The project is now a year off schedule, in part because of the disagreements on how to fix the split, said ODOT spokesperson Michelle May. According to an ODOT timeline, construction was to begin in 2009, but now may be delayed until 2010.