Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Strategic mix

I-75 gridlock: Six-lane solution

Planners studying how to prevent gridlock on Interstate 75 have concluded widening it in both directions to four lanes, from the Ohio River to Butler and Warren counties, would still leave rush-hour traffic in 30 years worse than it is today. They say it would take six lanes in each direction to keep traffic flowing freely.

Don't count on the double six-lane project getting built. It would cost at least $1.56 billion - not including the costs of replacing the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge. The double six-lane project would require taking 160 extra acres and replacing 103 interchanges and overpasses. A more doable strategy is some mix of highway widening and other options, including mass transit.

The I-75 corridor committee for Greater Cincinnati and Dayton needs to put all options back on the table, including incentives or disincentives to induce more commuters to leave their vehicles at home.

The $365,000 I-75 study funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) was designed to answer the question of a strictly road-building fix: How many extra lanes - without any non-highway remedies to relieve congestion - would have to be added to keep rush-hour traffic flowing? But the consultants also developed a computer model to answer the opposite question: How much mass transit, including light rail, would have to be added to lessen the need to build additional Interstate lanes?

A previous study of widening the highway to four lanes in each direction estimated it would cost more than $800 million but require taking only 23 extra acres. Last November, Hamilton County voters crushed a $2.6 billion plan for a light rail system; 69 percent voted no. Light rail advocates will use this latest study to revive the call for light rail.

Research has shown that added lanes attract more motorists than originally projected. Build it and they will come. The I-275 beltway is still only two lanes wide on each side in some stretches. Short of an I-75 truck ban, what would induce more truckers and motorists to use I-275 if it remained narrow and I-75 were widened? Tolls could help, but they're a tough sell for Interstates with federal highway officials, Congress and motorists. Relieving over-loaded I-75 will require widening I-275 beltway as a bypass, more mass transit and other non-highway strategies.

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