The Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 6 hosted a public meeting Oct. 20 at Northgate Church to provide an overview of the recommended Green Route alternative for the proposed southern Interstate-71 and routes 36/37 interchange modifications.
Project Manager Steve Fellenger said the alternative is needed to reduce congestion and improve the operation of U.S. Route 36/State Route 37 through the interchange while maintaining efficiency on I-71.
Fellenger said the southern interchange would improve safety at the interchange and eliminate stacking on I-71, improve east-west connectivity across Delaware County for commuters and freight, and support future growth.
At a public meeting in April, ODOT offered three alternatives for the interchange modification – Green, Blue, and Purple routes. At last week’s meeting, Fellenger said the Blue alternative would not only be the most costly, it also would have the greatest environmental impact on streams, wetlands, and farmland.
“The Green alternative would have less impact than the Purple alternative in five areas,” Fellenger said. “There would be less residential displacement, less commercial displacement, fewer property owners with Right of Way impacts, less potential endangered species habitat impact, and fewer potentially hazardous material sites.”
He said a Tanger Outlets Traffic Impact Study resulted in Mall opening day improvements to the 36/37 and I-71 corridor. Those improvements were an I-71 two-lane northbound exit ramp, widening of 36/37, a Wilson Road extension to the south, an access road from Wilson Road to A.D. Farrow Co. Harley-Davidson, and the 36/37 and Wilson Road intersection.
Deferred from opening day improvements were turn lanes and ramp lanes, and widening of parts of 36/37. Fellenger said the value of the deferred improvements is $16.5 million. Part of the initial funding for the new exit, the southern interchange, comes from that $16.5 million in deferred Tanger Outlet Mall opening day improvements.
Many of the residents in attendance stated that they are not opposed to the southern interchange, but had questions about the use of the $16.5 million.
“In an effort to be good stewards of the available monies, we deferred the future year improvements to better serve the regional traffic,” Fellenger said. “The southern interchange diverts more than half of the traffic from the existing interchange. This will allow for better traffic movement and increased safety at the existing interchange location.”
Fellenger showed a graphic based on the I-270 and State Route 161 Interchange with that interchange’s footprint laid over the I-71 36/37 interchange. The illustration showed how free-flow directional ramps would impact businesses at the existing interchange. Displaced businesses would include McDonald’s, Bob Evans, the Duke BP Gas Station, Starbucks, the Hampton Inn, Pilot and Flying J truck stops, A.D. Farrow, KFC, and Burger King.
That scenario would also close three intersections – Fourwinds Drive, Wilson Road, and the entrances to businesses between the BP Station and Arby’s. Businesses like Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s would lose frontage and have no front entrance off of the directional ramps.
“We had a lot of questions at our April Public Meeting about simply improving the existing interchange,” Fellenger said. “In response, this graphic was created to show the impact that directional ramps would have both to the existing businesses and to the accessibility that is currently direct access. This option had been eliminated from further consideration.”
Fellenger said while the Green alternative project impact could not be finalized until the detail design phase, anticipated impacts are 65 acres of right-of-way acquisition, impacting 17 property owners, with two residential relocations, and two commercial relocations.
He explained that the $162.6 million multi-phase southern interchange project includes the $16.5 million as outlined in an agreement signed by Columbus Outlets LLC, Delaware County, ODOT, Berkshire Landing New Community Authority, and Berkshire Township.
“The agreements in place provide ODOT the sole discretion on when and where the deferred $16.5 million is spent,” Fellenger added. “At this time, ODOT’s intent is to use the funds toward the combined southern interchange as the regional solution.”
Phase A of the project would cost $54 million, Fellenger said. The Village of Sunbury has approved donating $100,000 towards the project as a 20-percent match for a $400,000 Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission grant that has been requested but not yet approved. Tanger Outlet Mall Traffic Impact Improvements would add $10 million; NorthGate Partners would contribute $25.8 million; the NorthGate New Community Authority $7.7 million. In June, the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) was asked for another $10 million. Fellenger said the TRAC list would be available toward the end of the year.
“The meeting was again well-attended,’ Fellenger said. “There is a lot of interest in the area about the project. There were a lot of great questions. Everyone had an opportunity to get their questions answered and gather information. This is a great opportunity to help add capacity, alleviate congestion, and address the long-term regional issues at this interchange. We will continue to refine the funding and phasing plan and keep the public updated on our progress. ”
Fellenger said there would be an environmental impact public hearing in early 2017, with environmental clearance expected in April of 2017, followed by detailed design of the Green alternative.
Right-of-way acquisition typically takes 12-18 months for each project phase, Fellenger said. Construction of Phase A could begin in 2018, with all phases completed by 2035.
Public comments will be accepted via email at email@example.com or by mail at Steve Fellenger, PE Project Manager, ODOT, 400 E. William Street, Delaware, OH 43015.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.