By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON - Warren County and four other communities are putting up nearly $200,000 to help pay for a two-year, $1 million study of traffic problems and solutions in the southwest portion of the county.
Some projects that result might take a decade or more to complete, but the study will provide a blueprint for how to proceed, county officials say.
Among traffic solutions to be discussed will be whether updated interchanges are needed along Interstate 75 or Interstate 71 and how to reroute truck traffic and other vehicles around Lebanon.
But one congestion-relief idea - a connector road through the county linking I-75 and I-71 - is sure to reignite the debate over sprawl and traffic concerns.
"There are a lot of different problem areas we are looking at," Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison said Friday. "I know people are so geared toward the bypass they tend to overlook other problems, but we look at this as our last opportunity in the next 20 years to do other major problems. This truly is an area study, this is not a corridor study."
To start the study, Warren County contributed $100,000 and Turtlecreek, Mason, Hamilton Township and Lebanon paid just under $100,000 among them.
The local share of the $1 million study is 20 percent; county officials are seeking $800,000 in federal funding.
The top three consulting firms who have applied to assist on the project will be interviewed Friday, said Warren County Commissioner Larry Crisenbery. He is the chairman of the Southwest Transportation Study of Warren County Committee. Expected to be launched in April, the study will be conducted by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. OKI also will hold public hearings on the matter.
The potential interstate connector would be somewhere between Ohio 63 in Monroe and Lebanon and Fields-Ertel Road in Deerfield Township, according to the Warren County Engineer's Office.
The study also will investigate how much such an artery would cost and how long it would take to build.
Mr. Crisenbery, an OKI board member and past president, says he thinks the link is necessary and the study will prove it.
Last fall, during the controversy over an eastward interchange off the Michael A. Fox Highway at I-75, some Butler County residents urged leaders to link I-75 to I-71.
When the highway was built in the late 1990s, there wasn't support in Warren County to push the expressway through Mason to I-71.
But Butler neighbors complained in public hearings that Warren County's side streets are crammed with traffic caused by the area's tremendous growth.
It will be far cheaper to build the connector now, when much of the route is undeveloped compared to later when more homes and commercial developments have been built, he said.
But Sierra Club officials and neighbors such as Bob Buffenbarger of the Residents Association of West-Central Warren County have been resisting the connector idea.
Glen Brand, Midwest regional representative of the Sierra Club, says the link would usher in mass development and worse traffic congestion in the county. That's the last thing gridlocked areas like Deerfield Township need, he said.
"This one doesn't pass the laugh test," Mr. Brand said. "This is the beginning of a second beltway around the metropolitan region. It's unbelievable. It is the most ludicrous boondoggle scheme yet to come from the local highway and developer lobbies."Mr. Brand said putting $1 million into the traffic study makes no sense when earlier this month Warren County leaders were talking about increasing home lot sizes and green space.
Mr. Crisenbery insisted the connector, if built, would not have many curb cuts, if any. The goal of the road is to move cars, not boost economic development, he "We are not trying to promote sprawl. We are trying to alleviate the sprawl we already have by having a smooth flow of traffic," Mr. Crisenbery said.
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