The Berkshire Township Trustees told residents they wanted to block an Ohio Department of Transportation funding request for a southern interchange off Interstate 71 at a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 19.
While the trustees have previously said they have no objection to the exit, they don’t want to see it funded in part by $16.5 million generated by the recently-opened Tanger Outlet Mall. The trustees said there was an agreement with ODOT that the money would go towards “funding the future improvements at the present interchange of U.S. 36/S.R. 37 and I-71 and subsequent related projects.”
However, the trustees state in a July letter that ODOT was using the $16.5 million as a local funding source for the southern interchange in a funding request to Ohio’s Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC). “We believe those funds must be used for improvements to the EXISTING interchange,” the trustees wrote.
In a June memo regarding the TRAC application, ODOT said of the $16.5 million, “these funds are available for improvements to this interchange area as per agreement, at the discretion of ODOT as based on traffic needs.”
Pat Shively, developer for a proposed Northgate Center Commerce District, said, “ODOT was emphatic that they have sole control over that money.”
After the meeting, Shively passed out an illustration showing the proposed southern interchange, with a two-lane Sunbury Parkway extending from the village and intersecting with Domigan, Galena, Wilson, Three B’s & K, and Africa Roads. Recent annexations means Sunbury’s western border now extends to Three B’s & K. These improvements would begin in 2018 and be completed in 2035.
The trustees said they wanted to give their side of the story, and to get residents’ signatures against the TRAC application.
Trustee Mike Dattilo said 313 new homes have been built in the township since 2008. He said new roads means more traffic and maintenance for the township, but development also creates a positive impact by increasing the tax base, creating jobs, and by having local businesses sponsoring youth activities.
“We need to support these businesses for the future,” Dattilo said.
Trustee Rod Myers spoke of future road improvements — Fourwinds Drive North, Longhorn Drive, Wilson Road, Big Walnut Road exit, the I-71 and 36/37 exit, and the proposed south exit. Of the latter, Myers said “it should be paid for by the developer.”
Myers later said Shively only wanted to do the first phase of the southern interchange.
Trustee Bill Holtry said the funding change “does not pass the smell test.”
Holtry said of the current I-71 interchange, “What you currently see, took $16 million to do do. There is no true ownership of the (other) $16.5 million. They (ODOT) want to pull that money out and fund the southern interchange. We’re asking you to support keeping the $16.5 million in Berkshire Township.”
He said that if the $16.5 million is awarded to ODOT, the township wouldn’t be able to get any of the money, which could have been used for widening routes 36/37 and other improvements as the area became more developed. Holtry said with the improvements, routes 36/37 could eventually be like Sawmill Road in Dublin.
The trustees said the TRAC board would take residents’ input seriously, but one resident told the trustees getting the signatures was wimpy and would not change the board’s decision. He suggested filing an injunction against ODOT, saying the present exit was unfinished because people who miss exiting into the outlet mall use his driveway on 36/37 to turn around.
Another resident said ODOT likely knew best how to earmark the funds, but the trustees said building a southern interchange without making other improvements to 36/37 would not be in the best interests of residents. The trustees said ODOT was simply concerned about getting people off the interstate as quickly as possible, without consideration of local traffic.
There will be a TRAC application hearing on Oct. 13 (time to be determined) at ODOT’s central office, 1980 W. Broad St., Columbus. The public may attend but can’t comment.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.