Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Design a concern on I-75 exchange

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - A proposed eastward interchange of Interstate 75 at the Michael A. Fox Highway could be in jeopardy, Butler County leaders acknowledged Monday.

Estimated costs have steadily risen since the project was proposed in 2001 - and now county officials are pleading with state and federal authorities not to make the project too expensive by requiring a "free-flow interchange," Commissioner Mike Fox said Monday.

Federal Highway Administration and Ohio Department of Transportation officials want the free flow interchange, which feeds traffic in a continuous stream and does not have traffic signals, Fox said. The existing westbound interchange is free-flow.

The interchange's configuration has a direct impact on the project's cost, originally estimated to be about $8 million, and the capacity to finance it, Fox said.

The Butler County Transportation Improvement District plans to borrow the money to build the interchange, and then pay it back with tax revenues from the expected development around it, he said.

A free-flow configuration would be the most expensive option because it would take up the most land, he said, estimating costs could run as high as $70 million.

"If the configuration chews up a lot of ground that would otherwise be available for development, it takes away the tax base and jobs the project would bring," Fox said.

Specific costs for each of the five proposed configurations for the interchange - and the recommended option - will be unveiled next month.

Residents in the area are worried about the increase in noise, congestion and lights the project would create.

Meanwhile, township leaders are also concerned about the climbing costs.

Rick Bailey, TID executive director, appeared before Liberty Township trustees Monday to receive approval for another $215,693 so consultants on the project can do work required by ODOT.

Specifically, ODOT wants additional analysis that shows the relationship of any proposal for the new interchange with adjacent interchanges as far north as Ohio 63 and one that has been proposed but subsequently abandoned at Greentree Road, he said.

Trustees were concerned Monday about the unexpected expenditure, particularly in light of the debate over the interchange configuration, and tabled the request to further investigate.

The money would come from a tax increment-financing (TIF) district in the interchange area. So far, Liberty officials have approved spending up to $250,000 for preliminary studies of the interchange out of their general fund, and last year, county officials dedicated $338,000 for more studies from of the TIF.

Trustees said they wanted to know how much revenue is expected to be generated from the TIF before they approve using more money from it.

"I don't want it to appear in any way we are losing enthusiasm for the project," Trustee David Kern said. "On the other hand, I would feel more comfortable if we had another meeting."

Also Monday, trustees approved higher standards for development, buffering and beautification between the proposed interchange and expensive homes at Four Bridges and other subdivisions such as Evergreen Estates.

It also prohibits intense development such as hotels, gas stations and fast-food restaurants from directly abutting the homes, which range from $250,000 to $900,000.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.

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