Who should pay for Liberty Way, I-75 traffic fixes

Butler County will spend $1 million on a design contract to start major modifications to the Liberty Way and Interstate 75 interchange. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

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Butler County will spend $1 million on a design contract to start major modifications to the Liberty Way and Interstate 75 interchange. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County has taken another step toward improving traffic in the Liberty Way and Interstate 75 interchange, awarding a $1 million contract for a consultant can determine phase one of the project.

The exact plans for the interchange modification are uncertain at this stage, hence the need to pay a consultant $924,311, according to Dale Schwieterman, deputy engineer.

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“It’s one of those things where you throw everything on a wall and see what sticks,” he said. “There are different alternatives we may have to remedy our problems out there.”

One part of the project involves extending Ohio 129 to a new Cox Road roundabout and modifying the Interstate 75 ramps.

With the advent of mega mixed use development Liberty Center, the new Christ Hospital and other developments, Butler County officials have expressed a need to calm traffic in the area.

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The $30 million to $40 million project isn’t slated to start until 2021, but the county just learned it will get a $6 million matching grant from the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) to get things started on the multi-phased project.

Kar Singh, the county’s engineering manager, said this consulting project will help them get a little closer to final designs and costs, after they determine if there are any environmental or other concerns that could impact the plans.

“The consultant is going to go out there, do the surveys to figure out if we are going to run into any roadblocks or anything,” Singh said. “Then they take our preferred alternative, put preliminary engineering to it and then figure out how we are going to phase it for the $12 million.”

County Administrator Charlie Young said the $6 million matching grant will come out of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district the county has in that area, but that financing stream expires in 2032. Liberty Twp. has an overlay TIF in the area that kicks in after the county TIF ends. Young said Liberty is expected to use their TIF to help pay the debt service on bonds that will be issued for the project.

“The township, the county and any other sources we can bring to bear will be and are expected to contribute to the bigger project,” Young said. “The county has a TIF and the TIF will provide the $6 million matching for the OKI grant, which is only a part of the project. But the county TIF is not sufficient to pay for everything that will be required.”

Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Christine Matacic said the township already has some of the future TIF money pledged to other projects.

“I would have to take a look and do my due diligence to make sure we are not over-pledging…,” she said. “We’d have to do our due diligence and check figures before we could even commit to any kind of funding.”

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Trustee Tom Farrell said he understands the township needs to help foot the bill.

“At this point in time we haven’t had any formal discussions at all about contributions to it,” Farrell said. “But the township is responsible for making sure that infrastructure stays in place to support the residents. We will continue to work with the engineer’s office to find out what that project is, how much it costs and how we’re going to fund it.”

The project touches West Chester Twp. too and Matacic said that township should also be at the financing table. Schwieterman said there could be several financial players in their project, depending how the final plans pan out.

“Primarily right now it’s been Liberty Twp., West Chester of course is being involved just because of the proximity with it. Right now it’s been a global effort with the townships, the county some of the development out there…,” he said adding the future development east of Cox Road, for example, could also be part of the equation. “It depends on timing, it depends on development plans, there is a lot that may go into that.”

West Chester Twp. Trustee Board President Mark Welch said he needed to get more information about the project to comment. But Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said businesses in the former TIF for that area have already been paying.

“The old TIF goes way into West Chester, UC Hospital and all that, so they’ve been paying their part of what’s there now and they’ll continue to be a mix to pay from the old and the new TIF,” Dixon said. “West Chester has paid their part all along. When we say West Chester and Liberty it’s really the businesses in the TIF that are making the payments.”

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