Thursday, May 15, 2003

Union Centre Blvd. needs fixing

But officials disagree on how to pay for alterations

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - A main business artery through this Butler County suburb needs millions in road improvements over the next several years - but it's not certain who will pay.

Union Centre Boulevard, which just opened in 1997, already needs $7.8 million in improvements that should take place in three phases, Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens told West Chester trustees in a Tuesday work session.

"We're a victim of our own success," Trustee Catherine Stoker said.

The first phase should begin within three years and will cost $3.3 million, Wilkens said.

It will include a westbound right turn lane from the Interstate 75 ramp to Muhlhauser Road, eastbound right through lane from Floer Drive to the ramp, and pavement markings on Union Centre Boulevard. Plans also call for a southbound left turn lane and northbound right and left turn lanes on Muhlhauser Road from Union Centre to Allen Road.

"You need to start focusing," Wilkens told trustees. "Start looking into Phase I."

Westbound Union Centre just east of Muhlhauser carries more than its vehicle capacity of 40,000 cars. At least 43,000 vehicles a day travel just west of I-75 and just east of Muhlhauser.

Last fall, a Butler County engineer said the stretch of Union Centre just east of Muhlhauser was on the verge of being declared failing, but Wilkens downplayed that Tuesday.

"I wouldn't say it's failing," he said. "I would say we have an intersection that needs an improvement. We knew this was going to be a high growth area."

The second and third phases of road work call for widening Union Centre Boulevard to three lanes in each direction, and widening the bridge over I-75.

Meanwhile, West Chester officials still have time before the work begins to figure out how to pay for the improvements. Tax increment financing money likely will be used, they say. Those are tax funds set aside from commercial and other projects in a given area, designated for infrastructure work. Stoker also suggested asking Butler County officials to contribute because the county's sales tax coffers benefit from the business-heavy boulevard.

"I would expect the county to step forward with some funds as they are needed to make these improvements," Stoker said.

However, Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox said Wednesday the county is hurting for money and doesn't have funds for capital improvement projects.

The county, he noted, tried to raise the sales tax rate to generate more revenue for projects in late 2001 but that was blocked by a referendum drive led by Stoker and others. West Chester Township Trustee Jose Alvarez also signed a petition against the increase, he recalled.

"The county doesn't have the money," Fox said. "If Catherine and Jose hadn't been so successful in blocking the sales tax, we would have been able to help her."

"That's nonsense," Stoker countered. "Perhaps if the county did not supply vehicles for its employees to commute to work in - particularly the brand new vehicles the county commissioners just approved for themselves - they would have more money to spend on highway improvements to increase their sales tax revenue."


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