Agency adopts transportation plan for Champaign County

A regional planning agency recently adopted a plan that could help Champaign and Logan counties become more competitive in seeking funding to improve highways and make intersections safer for pedestrians and drivers.

A study by the Logan-Union-Champaign Regional Planning Commission identified several potential projects in Champaign County, including a roughly $22 million proposal to add two additional lanes to U.S. 68 between Springfield-Urbana Pike and the city of Urbana’s corporation limits.

That project, along with several others identified in the report, would not guarantee state funding, said Dave Gulden, director of the LUC. But it would give the region a leg up if funding becomes available through the Ohio Department of Transportation, he added.

The projects identified could help reduce crashes, improve traffic flow and improve economic growth, according to the report.

The report is the result of a roughly $175,000 pilot program from ODOT that began in 2013. The LUC was one of a handful of rural commissions selected as part of the two-year program to give rural planning commissions and residents more say in what projects will provide the best value for the region.

The plan will give the region a better chance to acquire state funding for local projects, said Stephen McCall, Champaign County engineer. The plan will also tie into ODOT’s Transportation Improvement Process, which helps determine how state and federal funds are spent in Ohio, Gulden said.

“It also helps us identify projects that would be beneficial for the public and our counties,” McCall said. “If we do have funds available for some of these projects, then we might be able to identify and take care of them.”

Among the projects listed in the report, the LUC highlighted a two-phase plan that would add two lanes to U.S. 68 between Springfield-Urbana Pike and Urbana’s corporation limits. Each phase would cost about $11 million. That project would improve traffic flow due to a significant amount of truck traffic on the road, said Skyler Wood, a GIS planning technician for the LUC who helped develop the report.

“It’s an economic development issue to keep the freight moving as efficiently as we can,” Gulden said. “U.S. 68 is a very important freight corridor.”

Other projects listed as high priorities in the report include a $1 million proposal to build a roundabout and install a crosswalk for pedestrians at Scioto Street and U.S. 36 in Urbana. It also calls for a $1.9 million project to widen and improve a portion of Ohio 296 to County Line Road in Champaign County. A $582,000 project to improve crosswalks and safety at the roundabout at Monument Square in downtown Urbana is listed as a medium priority.

The LUC priority list also includes a long sought-after U.S. 68 bypass, that would allow traffic to pass through the west side of the city. That project, which would be built in two phases, is listed as a medium priority and would cost about $75 million, according to the LUC report.

The report also includes proposals for other forms of transportation, including bike and walking paths and public transportation, Wood said. A roughly $1.3 million project listed as a high priority would pave 15 miles of the Simon Kenton Bike Trail from Urbana to Bellefontaine.

Larger metro areas typically create and update detailed transportation plans every few years, but rural planning commissions rarely have the same training and resources, Gulden said. By working with Logan County and the LUC, officials in Champaign County will ideally be more competitive when seeking funding, he added.

“It kind of raises the profile of the county when it comes to transportation funding,” Gulden said. “At times due to the funding we can’t always capitalize on funding. We’re hoping this new model changes that, so it’s not so much based on population and more on factors like freight and rural access.”

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