By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON - The Tristate's regional transportation board approved funding this week to get moving on a Warren County traffic study that includes the viability of a connector road linking Interstates 75 and 71.
"Everybody's yelling for a connector," Warren County Commissioner Larry Crisenbery said Friday. "This is a major boost. It's a step that should have been taken a long time ago."
The Southwestern Warren County Transportation Study is expected to take 18 months to assess traffic problems, solutions and future needs in that portion of the county.
Some projects produced by the assessment, including the connector road, might take a decade or more to complete, county and regional transportation officials concede.
But by doing the study now before proposing improvements such as the connector road, problems will be avoided later, said Jim Duane, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
"In the past, when we have decided we wanted to build a road here, we spent the next eight years fighting neighborhood and political battles," Duane said. "But we have found there is an easier way to do it, and that's to try to get the community consensus up front through a technical study and then go forward for funding."
A Cincinnati planning and engineering firm, Burgess & Niple Ltd., will be paid $737,607 to assist OKI in conducting the study, OKI's board - which includes Crisenbery - decided at their Thursday meeting.
Most of the money comes from the federal government, but Warren County contributed $100,000 and the cities of Mason and Lebanon and townships of Deerfield, Union and Hamilton chipped in another $100,000 total.
The start of the study comes just in time for Warren County commissioners, who have been trying to slow growth in their fast-growing county. At a public hearing late Thursday over new requirements for subdivisions, at least one resident accused commissioners of not planning enough for Warren's future, particularly when it comes to roads.
The claim has been repeatedly made in recent months as Warren, the second fastest-growing county in the state, copes with a housing boom.
"You're putting all your eggs in the basket of stopping the growth and none to prepare for it," George Butts, 72, of Turtlecreek Township, told commissioners.
Butts questioned why the Michael A. Fox Highway, which connects Hamilton to I-75, wasn't extended farther east to I-71 when the highway was built in the late 1990s.
Crisenbery responded that it was too expensive to purchase the land needed for the expressway's right of way, which would have cost about $280 million. Mason officials also had balked at a highway bisecting their community.
Now, if the connector road were found to be a good option, it likely would run farther north along I-75 than the Fox Highway, closer to Ohio 63, Crisenbery said. A tentative concept places it somewhere between Ohio 63 in Monroe and Lebanon and Fields Ertel Road in Deerfield Township, according to the Warren County Engineer's Office.
Once the study is complete and road improvements and new roads are identified, the county and OKI hope to put the plans on a regional master traffic list and then lobby federal officials for the funding to build.
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