By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It was a meeting that was supposed to help clarify the options for fixing Interstate 75.
Instead, Monday's informal workshop of the committee overseeing a study about what to do about the crowded freeway muddled the situation for some.
And the committee is getting set to vote on final recommendations in just two weeks.
"You have some tradeoffs to consider," Khalid Bekka, an economist with HLB Decision Economics and a consultant on the study, told the group. "You can solve congestion right away, and have it come back. Or you can solve it with something that takes a while but has a long-term benefit."
The committee has one major decision left - how to expand capacity so traffic at rush hour is better in 30 years than it is now. Under consideration: adding lanes to the highway, a new light rail line, and, Monday, the addition of a rush-hour truck ban was also given a lot of discussion.
Final recommendations, to be decided Sept. 29, are to be passed onto the full board of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the region's planning agency. For any of the projects to receive funding, OKI must then vote to include those recommendations into the region's long-range plan.
All of the options being considered have major social and financial costs. The study group has heard that it would essentially take doubling the number of lanes now - three more in each direction through Hamilton County and two more lanes through Butler and Warren counties - to solve traffic in 30 years. That's assuming no light rail and a price of $1.56 billion with major land to be acquired.
A combination of the two - high-frequency light rail coupled with widening to four lanes each way in most locations and five in some congested areas - would be the cheapest way to alleviate future rush hour congestion, the study has found. That would cost an estimated $1.83 billion.
The truck ban is the cheapest alternative but could create major stresses on the I-275 bypass while creating a law enforcement nightmare. In addition, a truck ban would have "an insignificant impact" on reducing traffic, Bekka said.
Even the possibility of such a ban drew a strong reaction from Cincinnati's representative, Martha Kelly.
"We would be totally against that," said Kelly, the city's principal engineer. "What we are deciding should be two issues - do we want light rail, and the city of Cincinnati says yes. And the other is that do we want six lanes or something less, and six lanes would be ridiculous given its impact. Those are the two controversies here, and we need to keep that focus."
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