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State won’t speed up I-70 widening

Local officials had hoped to move up widening of a stretch of the interstate in Clark County where 55,000 to 70,000 motorists drive daily.

The last remaining stretch of Interstate 70 in Clark County to be widened likely will have to wait more than 20 years before construction begins after efforts to get the project moved up failed.

Local leaders have long wanted to see the last portion of the freeway from Enon Road to Ohio 72 widened to six lanes, citing safety concerns and economic development.

So after the state last year pushed the project back to 2036 due to budget concerns, Ohio Department of Transportation District 7 officials last year sought to move the project back up to this March 2013 and to elevate it to a higher priority status known as Tier 1.

But the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council recently met to adopt a new list of projects and I-70 remained in Tier 2 status, which means it will be delayed until at least 2036.

“No Tier 2 projects were moved to Tier 1 and that would include the Interstate 70 project in Clark County. So we’re still on Tier 2, which means there is no funding for construction,” said Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Director Scott Schmid at a TCC meeting Friday.

District officials hoped the project could take place sooner because its estimated cost dropped by more than $11 million and they had plans to allocate $3 million toward the work.

ODOT officials had said it would cost $15.5 million — instead of the previously estimated $27 million — to widen I-70 from Enon Road to U.S. 68 for the first phase of the project in 2013. The second phase of the project to widen from U.S. 68 to Ohio 72 likely costs $42.5 million.

The Clark County construction was among 34 projects that were delayed last year until 2036.

ODOT has since cut spending and is exploring ways to increase revenue, such as by leasing the Ohio Turnpike.

District 7, for example, reduced spending on paving by $5 million and on bridges by about $1 million. The office has also cut its staff members from 430 about a year ago to 406. By next year, the work force could be cut to 387 through attrition and retirements.

The cost-cutting measures and efforts to lease the turnpike could help money become available for I-70, Schmid said.

“Hopefully some additional money becomes available, but right now they remain committed to Tier 1 projects only and that does not include us,” he said.

Schmid has said the interstate needs to be widened to reduce congestion.

About 55,000 to 60,000 motorists travel I-70 from Enon Road to U.S. 68 daily, and about 65,000 to 70,000 drivers travel along U.S. 68 to Ohio 72 daily.

Springfield Planning and Zoning Administrator Bryan Heck told the TRAC board in April the I-70 construction project is critical to the area due to safety concerns and that Ohio 72 and U.S. 68 are key to economic development in the region.

“It’s important to have that widening so we can continue to attract businesses to those areas,” Heck said. “Those are key interchanges for the development of future industrial parks and current industrial needs.”

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