Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Road projects ready to roll

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Orange barrel season is back, en masse.

        New road construction projects are expected to cause significant delays on Interstates 75 and 471 and on several portions of the I-275 beltway, including near the airport. Several major projects begin next month.

        There also will be a local first, in which ODOT will allow a contractor to design its own bridge and road repairs, on I-471 downtown. It still must meet all ODOT regulations, but the goal is to streamline a project in a time crunch.

[photo] Workers construct the bed for a connector from Interstate 471 amd Columbia Parkway tp Fort Washington Way.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        Total costs for this year's projects: $95 million for the Ohio Department of Transportation, $50 million for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Southeast Indiana has no major highway projects.

        The good news for drivers: Two-year projects for widening I-71 north of I-275 and widening Ronald Reagan Highway will end this year, easing congestion in Blue Ash, Reading and Mason.

        The bad news: ODOT is calling its 2001 campaign “aggressive,” with costs for new construction north of the Ohio River more than doubling from $46 million in 2000.

        At a Tuesday press conference at the Sharonville Convention Center, Charles Meyers, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, cited I-75 construction in Erlanger as the most problematic, especially for drivers heading to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        Mr. Meyers likened road construction to owning a home, because “there's always something to do.”

        For motorists like Bridget Hermecz, 31, of Taylor Mill, that “something” is finding an alternate route to work in downtown Cincinnati, which she has made into a science of sorts.

        “I find the path of least resistance and stick with it,” she said, “until everybody catches up and starts doing the same thing.”

        When the interstate is clear, the 11-mile drive from home to work takes her about 15 minutes. Nowadays, she takes Highland Pike and Kyles Lane, eventually weaving through Covington.

        At 35 minutes, she considers her morning commute a bargain.

Constuction season
    • Slow down. Speeding is the most common cause of injuries and deaths in construction-zone crashes. Nationally, nearly 1,000 motorists and workers are killed annually in such crashes, according to the American Traffic Safety Services Association.
    • Don't try to rush down the “closing” lane in order to cut back into traffic at the last minute.
    • Turn your headlights on in work zones, for the safety of yourself, other motorists and workers.
    • Increase the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
    • Find an alternate route to avoid backups.
    • Take advantage of public transportation.
    Source: AAA Cincinnati and the Ohio Department of Transportation
        Freeze-and-thaw cycles of Cincinnati winters that create potholes are the biggest enemies of local roads, said Kim Patton, ODOT spokeswoman.

        That, and increased truck traffic, have prompted the $1 million repaving on I-75 between I-74 and downtown Cincinnati, one of the most heavily traveled stretches of local highway.

        To alleviate rush-hour backups, most work will be done at night, with only minimal interruption to commuters, she said.

        Chris Back, 19, who commutes each workday from Brookville, Ind., to downtown Cincinnati via I-74, knows the work is needed.

        “Those ruts,” he said, getting out of his pickup truck on Vine Street. “You can't switch lanes without hitting a pothole.”

        Daytime construction work can't be avoided on another major project, bridge and road repair on the 3/4-mile stretch of I-471 downtown, from I-71 to the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, also known as the Big Mac Bridge.

        The average daily traffic count on that stretch currently is 96,360 vehicles, up from 93,100 in 1994, according to ODOT statistics. Growth in the Fort Thomas area of Northern Kentucky has contributed to that increase.

        ODOT has twice initiated design-and-build projects currently under way in Preble and Greene counties, but the I-471 work, by Columbus-based Complete General Construction, is a first locally.

        The upside for ODOT is that work can be done more quickly, and the liability for design work shifts to the contractor. The upside for Complete General is more leeway in traffic maintenance. The designer is Columbus-based Barr Engineering.

        The design costs are about $500,000 of the $15.4 million project on I-471, said Larry Lyons, Complete General's vice president of operations.

        “Well, it allows us to be a little creative in maintenance of traffic and lane closures, things like that, to fit our schedule,” Mr. Lyons said. “But the biggest thing is just squeezing all this work into five months of work.”

        When work on I-471 downtown begins in June, traffic in both directions will be reduced to one lane. The ramp from northbound I-471 to Fort Washington Way and Third Street will remain closed. The project is slated to be done by fall. Mr. Meyers of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said design-build projects were considered for a Gallatin County project, but the agency declined.

        Still, he said, such arrangements are likely in the future.

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