Thursday, September 11, 2003

ODOT asks $155M for I-75

That's just initial funding for projects

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

As the debate over how to fix congestion and safety problems on Interstate 75 hits its final phase, state highway officials aren't wasting any time in seeking money.

The Ohio Department of Transportation on Wednesday officially requested $155 million for seven projects that could cost more than $644 million total. The projects include:

The committee overseeing a study on Interstate 75 meets Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments at 420 East Pete Rose Way, Suite 420, downtown to discuss the alternatives.

A separate meeting is scheduled at OKI at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 29 to vote on final recommendations to the full OKI board.

OKI has scheduled three open houses/public hearings from 5-7 p.m. on all the alternatives over the next two weeks. They are:

• Sept. 17: Lakota West High School, 8940 Union Centre Boulevard, West Chester.

• Sept. 18: Lockland Elementary School, 200 N. Cooper Ave.

• Sept. 24: Erlanger Municipal Building, 505 Commonwealth Ave.

OKI's full board is expected to discuss the I-75 recommendations at its October meeting and could possibly vote on them to be included in a 30-year long-range plan in November.

• Reconfiguring the Ohio approaches to the Brent Spence Bridge, if Kentucky is able to secure funding to renovate or replace the 40-year-old structure. Early estimates on this project run as high as $250 million. The bridge itself could cost as much as $500 million.

• Rebuilding and redesigning the three miles of interstate that includes the Lockland Split and all of the connecting interchanges.

• Widening I-75 to four lanes in each direction through Butler and Warren counties.

• Reconstructing a stretch of the freeway between Hopple Street and Mitchell Avenue in Cincinnati and rebuilding all three interchanges in that area, including the one that connects I-75 with I-74.

• Redesigning and expanding the Ohio 122 and Ohio 63 interchanges. Transportation Review Advisory Council members heard a presentation on the Ohio 122 proposal stressing that officials from Warren County, Middletown and the Middletown Regional Hospital were now in agreement, after previous disputes over where the hospital was planning to move its main campus.

"We're really going after the no-brainer fixes with these" projects, said Michael Flynn, who oversees Southwest Ohio's ODOT regional office. State officials say that I-75 inside Hamilton County is the second-most accident prone stretch of interstate in Ohio after to I-70/71 in downtown Columbus.

The request went to the advisory council, a panel appointed by the governor that oversees a major portion of transportation spending for the state. Its approval is needed before large funding on major projects can be secured, although ODOT also has its own discretionary budget. Wednesday's meeting was one in an annual series around the state that give each region a chance to pitch its projects. A draft list of approved projects is expected in December, and the final list will be released late next spring.

The state's request comes as a separate study over what to do about I-75 is nearing completion. Monday, the committee overseeing the I-75 study heard that it would take six lanes in each direction to avoid major rush hour traffic jams 30 years from now at a cost of $1.56 billion from the river through Warren County.

The committee is also considering recommending a light rail line in conjunction with smaller highway expansions, and its recommendations are due to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments at the end of this month. OKI, the region's main planning agency, then needs to approve any such projects for them to be eligible for federal funding.

OKI officials overseeing the I-75 study say that there is no conflict with the state's request, even though several of the requested projects expand capacity.

"This is a very positive step," said Judi Craig, OKI's corridor studies manager. "This reinforces the state's commitment to these projects, and OKI's board already has identified them as priorities for the corridor."

If funding is approved, construction on some of the projects listed could begin as soon as 2007, ODOT officials said.


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