Friday, November 05, 1999

I-71/75 S-curve project ending

Police hope area will remain safer

The Cincinnati Enquirer

| S-curve graphic |
        FORT MITCHELL — Northbound Interstate 71/75 drivers got a taste of driving heaven Thursday when they traveled the infamous S-curve area on three lanes free of orange barrels.

        It was the first time in about two years the stretch has been free of construction, marking near completion of the $21 million S-curve realignment project. Future northbound lane closings will happen at night.

        Some drivers were less thrilled than others.

        “They still have a curve,” said William Ballinger, 38, of Independence, leaving a truck stop off I-71/75 in Richwood on Thursday.

        He travels between Ohio and Kentucky five times a day, going through Fort Mitchell's construction area to deliver fuel for Advantage Tanklines in Canton, Ohio.

        “My opinion is they just moved the curve over,” Mr. Ballinger said. “You cannot tell me they couldn't run that straight through. (But) it was bad. It needed to be improved because the road wasn't built right the first time.

        “It is better now. I can say that much.”

        Southbound drivers will continue navigating orange barrels and construction work for about three weeks.

        Kentucky transportation workers aim to complete the project by the Thanksgiving weekend, which will mean four southbound lanes and three northbound lanes through Fort Mitchell.

        Police welcomed the new alignment.

        Fort Mitchell Police Chief Steve Hensley said the construction has slowed drivers, making the highway stretch safer. He expects that trend to continue.

        “They've taken the majority of the curve out,” he said. “I anticipate that it will make a big difference for people traveling both north- and southbound.

        “I can certainly say that, on the southbound sides, we rec ognize a dramatic decrease in accidents involving larger trucks.”

        The S-curve project was necessitated by dozens of fatal accidents and big-rig tip-overs that had been happening at the 5-degree S-curve at the Dixie Highway interchange.

        Since the project began in April 1998, traffic has been congested from south of Dixie Highway to Kyles Lane in Fort

        Wright, about a 1.3-mile stretch.

        But the formerly treacherous curve has been straightened to 2 degrees, and the cloverleaf configuration of the entrance and exit ramps hasbeen converted to a diamond shape.

        “It's a more gentle curve,” said Larry Trenkamp, district construction engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “Truck traffic should be able to negotiate it without any problem. It's a heckuva lot flatter than it was before.”

        Carl Frenzen, 54, of Salina, Kansas, has been driving semi-tractor-trailers for 20 years and travels through the Cincinnati area at least once a month.

        He hasn't been through Fort Mitchell much since the construction began because he doesn't want to face fines. The highway stretch is under a truck ban, meaning that only those truckers with business in the area can travel it.

        “It'll help. I believe it will help a lot,” he said.

        “Straightening that (curve) will make a significant difference in the I-75 corridor,” said Kenton County Police Chief Mike Browning. His only concern is that people will be prone to speed now that the S-curve has been straightened.

        “It went from a pretty treacherous highway with radical curves to now a nearly straight shot through Kenton County,” he said. But “we'll just be glad for the construction to end.”

        Billy Joe Hodge, 61, of Jefferson City, Tenn., has been a trucker for 35 years and has been bypassing the construction area since the truck ban went into place. He's resigned that orange barrels will always be somewhere.

        “It's everywhere,” he said. “From Knoxville, Tenn., to New York City.”


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