By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin is asking the committee overseeing a study of Interstate 75 to take another look at banning commercial truck traffic. It would apply inside Hamilton County when the trucks do not have local deliveries.
Dowlin says that could be a short-term solution to congestion while options such as light rail or highway expansion are designed or built. The committee disregarded the truck-ban option early on in the two-year study process.
"I feel like I've been shut down every time I talk about this, but we need to be looking at something now, and if it isn't this, what is it?" said Dowlin, a member of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the region's transportation planning agency that is overseeing the I-75 study.
Dowlin asked for the issue to be re-examined in a letter to the committee's chairman, Sterling Uhler, earlier this week. Dowlin said he was being "pooh-poohed" by OKI officials.
But OKI officials and other experts say the option would not work for several reasons - hence, its early dismissal.
"We will certainly respond to Commissioner Dowlin's request to review this, and we will respond to his questions," said OKI corridor study manager Judi Craig, who is overseeing the I-75 study. "But we have considered this a number times in the oversight committee over the last two years. Still, ultimately, it will be the OKI Board of Trustees which will take action on any recommendations ... so all alternatives are still on the table."
About 21,000 trucks use I-75 in Hamilton County inside Interstate-275 daily, part of about 140,000 vehicles on the freeway every day (both directions combined). According to a study of freight movement released by the Ohio Department of Transportation in June 2002, Hamilton is one of only two counties in the state that has 60 million to 115 million tons of freight either begin or end journeys here. Cuyahoga was the other county.
And according to a 1996 OKI study of traffic at the Brent Spence Bridge, 94.4 percent of all trucks make at least one stop in the seven county region, although that study was not limited to just I-75 in Hamilton County. That means that even if 10 percent of trucks didn't make local stops, the ban would only take 2,100 trucks off I-75 daily.
"I don't believe that, and that's why I'm asking for more data," Dowlin said, pointing out that a truck takes up as much space as at least four or five cars.
Truck bans - and the debate around them - are nothing new to the Tristate. Large trucks were banned from I-71/75 during the reconstruction of the "cut in the hill" in Northern Kentucky in the 1980s and 1990s; they also were banned from I-71 downtown during the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way.
But an effort by local communities in Northern Kentucky to keep the ban in place was eventually shut down by the Federal Highway Administration, and had been strongly opposed by the trucking industry. And the Fort Washington Way ban was lifted as soon as the project was completed.
In fact, the only known place in the nation where such a ban is in place permanently is in Atlanta, which was able to argue that it would help meet air quality standards.
Federal officials would have to approve any such ban and would only consider it after a joint request from the governors of both Ohio and Kentucky, OKI officials said.
"It would really take some sort of emergency condition or a very rare circumstance," said Hal Kassoff, the national program manager for highways for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the firm that is conducting the study on behalf of OKI.
"Besides, the U.S. interstate system is where you want the trucks to begin with," said Kassoff, the former state highway administrator for Maryland.
Clermont County Commissioner Mary Walker, also the secretary/treasurer of OKI, said she would be opposed to a ban because it would shift truck traffic to her area, which she says is ill equipped to handle it.
"It lengthens the trip for truckers, and we don't have the water or emergency services to handle a major accident or a hazmat spill," Walker said. "It would make traffic even worse over here, and we're still dealing with two lanes and a bunch of construction."
But Dowlin is undeterred, using the Kentucky situation as an example.
"It took some nine years before they were forced to stop, and I can't see why we can't consider the same thing," he said.
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