Saturday, September 04, 1999

Businesses feeling pain of project to widen I-71

Lanes remain open, but traffic crawls

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP —— Slow traffic means slower business for southern Warren County hotels, restaurants and retailers as road crews work to widen Interstate 71.

        “It's very taxing and it's a real abomination between 5 and 7 p.m., said Scott Stronback, assistant general manager for the Cincinnati Marriott Northeast just west of I-71 on Mason-Montgomery Road.

        “It took me 45 minutes the other day to get down I-71 past I-275,” said Mr. Stronback. “It can't get better too soon.”

        That echoes the sentiments of many other Deerfield Township businesses operating near I-71 in southern Warren County just north of the interchange of I-71 and Interstate 275.

        The I-71 highway is particularly vital to Warren County, home to some of the Tristate's most popular summer attractions: Paramount's Kings Island, the Kroger Senior Golf Classic, The Beach Waterpark and the Great American Insurance ATP Championship.

        Moreover, the rapidly expanding economic and residential base of Warren County relies heavily on often-traveled I-71, especially in the southern portion of the county.

        From 1986 to 1994, the number of cars passing I-275 on I-71 jumped 50 percent, to a daily count of 77,130, according to Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials.

        Announced in April, originally the project to expand I-71 from I-275 to Western Row Road from two to three lanes each way was to be done by cutting the highway to a single lane during the day.

        But subsequent outcry from local businesses and attractions — followed by a direct order from Ohio Gov. Bob Taft — altered ODOT's initial plans and has since kept two lanes open during most of the road work.

        Although most work has been done at night and two lanes have been kept open, the heavily traveled highway has been plagued by slow traffic that at times barely inches along.

        Officials at the Mason/Landen Kings Chamber of Com merce said about 40 complaints were made in August by local businesses about the slow highway traffic that periodically, especially during weekday morning and afternoon rush hours, clogs the stretch of roadwork.

        Michelle Coward, assistant general manager for The Cooker Bar & Grille off Governors Hill Drive near the highway in Deerfield Township, said impact of the highway congestion is visible on the faces of her customers.

        “The headaches and frustration can be seen when they come in.

        “People with reservations aren't as punctual. It seems to be more of a hassle to get here,” said Ms. Coward.

        “The impact on our business is slight, but it's there,” she said.

        Officials from Paramount's Kings Island said they are unsure of the highway project's exact impact on attendance and will not calculate such data until October.

        “We have not been able to determine the impact,” said King's Island spokesman Jeffrey Siebert.

        Business executives praised ODOT officials, however, for working with the affected business community, and general public, by holding bi-monthly meetings.

        Mr. Stronback of Marriott Hotel said “it's been helpful ... The communication is there all the time.”

        Kim Patton, spokeswoman for ODOT, said: “I think we've really been trying to accommodate business and tourism in the area.”

        She said public meetings, held every other Friday at ODOT's headquarters in Lebanon, are part of the state department's new effort to listen and respond to community concerns during highway road work.

        “We're definitely trying to be more pro-active,” said Ms. Patton.

        For information on ODOT's meetings on the I-71 highway projects, call 1-800-831-2142.


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