Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Conservationists oppose road plan

Lobby effort fights Ohio 32 project

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The proposed new route of Ohio 32 along the Little Miami River would increase traffic congestion and pollution, a study released Tuesday by environmentalists says.

        The project — which has yet to be approved and has no target start date — also would endanger the ecosystem of the river, one of three in Ohio on the National Wild and Scenic Rivers list, local and national environmentalists said.

        “We cannot build our way out of traffic congestion,” said Glen Brand, Midwest organizer for the national Sierra Club. “That's like trying to deal with a weight problem by buying bigger pants.”

        The $4,000 study, conducted by Resource Systems Group Inc. of White River Junction, Vt., says that the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) used flawed data when calculating traffic flow predictions for the proposed $77 million highway.

        OKI spokesman Allen Freeman disputed that claim, saying that his organization ran its analysis the same way it ran other similar analyses.

        “The numbers they've put together are illogical, and would compare to Interstate 75 at peak hours,” Mr. Freeman said. “We'd be glad to sit down and compare studies, but we feel strongly that our data and predictions are still valid.”

        The 10-mile stretch would consist of an elevated, limited-access viaduct that would run along the river, crossing at Red Bank Road and connecting there to Columbia Parkway and providing a more direct route between I-275 and I-71.

        It is part of an $800 million proposed renovation of the transportation system for eastern Clermont and western Hamilton counties known as the Eastern Corridor Project.

        The Ohio Department of Transportation's Transportation Review Advisory Council has tentatively approved $4.4 million for 2005 to begin engineering studies for the project. The proposed funding is open for public comment until April 15 and a final decision is due in May.

        Proponents of the new highway and the overall project say it would relieve congestion on the east side, where residents have Greater Cincinnati's shortest commutes in distance but the second-longest commutes in time.

        OKI prepared data for the committee that oversaw the final choices for the Eastern Corridor Project, Mr. Freeman said. That data shows the controversial highway and the rest of the project reducing delay hours by 64 percent and lowering vehicle miles traveled by 5.8 percent.

        The Ohio Sierra Club was on that committee, and cast the lone dissenting vote in a 41-1 decision on the final plan.

        The project still is in the planning stages, with the goal to complete construction by 2020. The highway in question would be overseen by the Hamilton County engineer's office.

        The new study, commissioned by the national and Ohio Sierra Clubs and Rivers Unlimited, says that there would be 1.8 percent more congestion region-wide with the highway. The suggested road was targeted by environmentalists earlier this year because they think it could increase sprawl and pollute the river.

        Ted Hubbard, Hamilton County's chief deputy engineer, said he would not comment on the new study, not having seen it.

        “But I will say I have faith in the MIS (Major Investment Study) that OKI prepared,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Everything they did on that MIS was in the open.”


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