Locals pitch I-70 widening plan

Clark County seeks to finish expansion to improve safety, jobs.

Local transportation officials have asked the state again for funding to widen a portion of Interstate 70 that local officials say will improve safety and boost jobs.

Ohio Department of Transportation District 7 recently submitted another application for construction money to widen a 6.8-mile stretch of I-70 and plan on May 23 to present to a state review board reasons to move the project up on a priority list so construction can begin next year.

ODOT planned to add a third lane in each direction on I-70 from Enon Road to U.S. 68 in the first phase of the project in 2014, which was expected to cost about $17.6 million. It was expected to cost about $42.5 million to widen I-70 from U.S. 68 to Ohio 72 for the second phase in 2015. Both of those phases are currently delayed.

The interstate goes from three lanes in western Clark County to two lanes around Springfield and back to three lanes east of the city, creating concerns about safety and worries for economic development leaders who market the region as a logistics and distribution center.

Area transportation leaders have applied multiple times to get funding for widening I-70, and District 7 officials also plan to use $5.9 million in maintenance funding toward the cost of construction.

Still, future construction on I-70 and dozens of other projects statewide remain in Tier II status and are not slated to get funding until at least 2036 due to state budget woes.

ODOT District 7 Planning and Engineering Administrator Matt Parrill said he hopes he and others can convince the Transportation Review Advisory Council to move the project up to Tier 1 status, which is defined as projects that are advancing to the construction phase.

“I’m always optimistic. I think we did another good job putting the applications together,” Parrill said. “These are good projects. But there are a lot of good projects around the state.”

A new state transportation bill that will allow Ohioans to drive 70 mph on some highways is expected infuse money into transportation project and could also move up the widening of I-70.

The bill approved by lawmakers in March includes a provision to allow the state to borrow $1.5 billion on the Ohio turnpike. Ninety-percent of the revenue must be spent on projects within 75 miles of the toll road. The remaining money can be spent on the state’s Tier I or high priority projects.

State Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, who sponsored the transportation budget, said after the bill was passed that he expected it to advance construction dates for many Ohio projects, including the I-70 project.

“I think this will allow Tier II projects (like I-70) to rise to the Tier I status,” McGregor said.

Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Director Scott Schmid is expected to attend the TRAC public hearing in Middletown along with Parrill.

Schmid said he’s hopeful the I-70 project will get some funding because officials are ready to begin construction on phase one as soon as money is available for the project.

“I’m optimistic that there’s a chance based on the additional funding for the turnpike area projects,” Schmid said.

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