Fight to widen I-70 not over

State, Clark County officials hope proposed turnpike hike could make money available sooner.

Transportation officials intend to apply again for funding to widen the last remaining four-lane stretch of Interstate 70 in Clark County.

Construction on I-70 was delayed last year until at least 2036 due to tight state budgets, leaving a 6.8-mile stretch in Clark County with four lanes. But with proposed toll increases on Ohio’s turnpike that could generate $1 billion, some area leaders are optimistic that means more money might be available to pay for the project sooner.

“We feel this project is a necessity, not only for our region but the state as a whole. Not only for safety concerns, but because of economic development as well. The squeezing of the lanes is a safety issue and can effect economic development because we know we are competing against other states,” said Springfield Planning and Zoning Administrator Bryan Heck.

Since the delay, Ohio Department of Transportation District 7 and local officials have sought to get construction moved back up because they say that section creates safety problems and hampers economic development efforts.

But the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council recently released a new list of projects and I-70 remained delayed for more than 20 years.

District 7 officials say they have applied three or four times to get funding for the project, and plan to apply again later this year.

“We will apply if there’s another round or until they tell us we don’t need to,” ODOT Planning and Engineering Administrator Matt Parrill said.

ODOT officials say it will cost $17.5 million to widen I-70 from Enon Road to U.S. 68 for the first phase of the project. The second phase of the project to widen it from U.S. 68 to Ohio 72 will likely cost $42.5 million.

Parrill said he hopes plans to allocate $3 million in local funding will convince TRAC to pay for the project sooner. Design work on the first phase of the project is already complete and design plans for phase II are expected to be done in 2014 or 2015.

“We feel the district funding commitment and our continued design work … will provide an appealing candidate project if and when funds do become available,” Parrill said.

Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Director Scott Schmid said he wasn’t surprised the project didn’t move from Tier 2 to Tier 1.

“We were disappointed, but we know the financial situation the state’s in. It was expected, but it was still disappointing. We gave it a shot,” Schmid said.

Schmid said he’s optimistic Gov. John Kasich’s proposed plan for toll increases that could finance at least $1 billion for transportation projects in northern Ohio will help the I-70 project in Clark County.

“We’re hopeful, but we don’t know the details. It’s still being debated … But any infusing of funding into (ODOT) helps us and other projects,” Schmid said.

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.

Heck said this week he was also disappointed in TRAC’s decision, but is hopeful proposed plans to fund road infrastructure will allow leaders to construct the project by it’s original completion date of 2017 to 2018.

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