Probably few, if any, of the 30 men and women in the conference room of the County Engineer’s facility on Monday morning, March 3, would dispute the need for widening U.S. Route 42 on both sides of the bridge over I-70. The traffic congestion, both north and south of that bridge is cause for concern.
“Safety is the first issue,” said commissioner Mark Forrest. “It’s not safe with all the truck traffic. We need to take care of the safety concerns. As we bring more development to the area, it will grow and get worse.
“We’d like to see something done proactively rather than reactively. It would be safer.”
Safety has also been on the minds of Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) engineers as far back as 2002. Based on a study conducted by ODOT, the 42/70 interchange was scored at 285 (a high rating) in its Highway Safety Program (HSP). ODOT logs all the vehicular crashes which occur in a particular area, which determines the rating.
Preliminary estimates for the project at that time were $2.3 million.
In 2008 the project was looked at again and the safety issues still existed — with the south end of the area moving higher on the HSP list to 20, but estimated costs had quadrupled.
Ferzan Ahmed, deputy director for ODOT district 6 said a cap of $5 million exists on HSP projects.
ODOT engineer Thom Slack said the project stalled due to rising costs. Materials such as steel, then in increasing demand, particularly by China, was just one material whose cost had ballooned.
Commissioner David Dhume said since 2008, the economy of the county has been growing.
“The economy is different from 2008-2009,” he said. “It’s vastly better than it was.”
Dhume said the safety issues alone should be enough to move the project forward.
Commissioner Paul Gross agreed the safety issues warrant moving forward without too much time waiting.
“Costs will go up with the passage of time,” he said. “We don’t need much vision to know what’s happening in Madison County.”
Their vision is to bring water to the area, which the commission feels will bring growth.
Dirk Gross, engineer for ODOT said putting in a five lane widening with protective medians would be the optimal way to construct the project. It could be designed with a five-lane footprint and initially done with three lanes.
The mix of trucks, pulling into and out of the truck stops, plus passenger cars, creates what Gross calls “a lot of different conflicts of traffic.” Those conflicts not only create congestion but also crashes.
Simply put Gross said the solution lies in “reducing the conflict locations and putting people where they need to be.”
Gross said it will be necessary to acquire land for right of way to construct driveways to common driveways and reduce the number of driveways to lower the number of intersections, construct service roads as well as for the widening of the roadway itself.
Dhume said the project’s projected costs will best be handled by partnerships.
Ahmed said also to bring in various funding sources. He mentioned TIFs as a potential source.
“No government can pick up the tab,” he said. “Success will come from partnership. In the weeks to come we can talk about it.”
He said nailing down the costs of construction and costs of obtaining rights of way are necessary.
ODOT engineer Thom Slack said the department will continue its study.
“We need more current ideas on costs,” he said. “What are the benefits of doing the project? What is the benefit the safety project brings to the table?”
Gross said for safety project to be selected, “We have to have a high-cost-benefit ratio.” The benefit value of the project, versus cost of project needs to get a high enough score on the scale to get it selected by the safety committee.
“We’re shooting to submit this in calendar ’14,” Gross said. He sees a definite need to do the project.
Forrest said no one in the room could deny the project needs to be done.
“We need to work together and make it happen,” Forrest said. “There is no reason not to.”
Commissioners will meet again with ODOT officials and any other entity who wants to come in June.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the county’s four municipalities, as well as township trustees from Jefferson, Deercreek, Plain City’s village administrator, the Madison County chamber of commerce and office of economic development and landowners in the area.
Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.