The new ramps made their debut Tuesday afternoon at I-71 and Western Row Road four months ahead of schedule, completing the interchange with both on and off access to and from north and southbound I-71.
The new ramps bring with them increased visibility to Mason, a rapidly growing hub of biohealth, advanced automation and aerospace innovation that has seen more than 4,000 new jobs and $700 million in investment since 2014, according to city officials.
That “unprecedented growth” includes companies like Festo, Myriad Neuroscience (formerly Assurex Health), L3 Space & Sensors, Atricure and Procter & Gamble Global Health & Beauty.
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The significance of the full interchange is that it provides access on both sides of the interstate, according to Michele Blair, Mason’s economic development director.
“Mason’s such a unique ecosystem where we have tourism combined with industry on the east side and we have this innovation sector on the west side, and this (interchange) just really brings it all together,” Blair told this news outlet at Tuesday’s ceremony preceding the opening of the ramps. “Seventy percent of the corporate population of the city of Mason is here at this, what I would call ‘Innovation Corridor.’”
Blair said the interchange additions have opened more than 1,000 acres to development.
They’ve also created changes for drivers, who can now use the new northbound access to I-71 traveling from both east and westbound Western Row Road and the new southbound access both on and off I-71 to and from Innovation Way.
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It’s estimated that employees who live north of the interchange could save as many as four hours each month on their commute when they use the new access ramps, city officials said.
“Corporations want to come to a place where it’s easy to understand, it’s easy to get on, easy to get off and really that 'next gen' of company and employee that we’re trying to get is often times a younger, more educated employee. They have a lot going on,” Blair said. “You really have to consider the population that you’re trying to attract, as well as keeping your residents happy.”
Two interchanges constructed along Interstate 75 in Butler County, the Liberty Way Interchange in 2009 and the Union Centre Boulevard interchange in 1997, continue to spark new projects in a variety of industries and provide residents and employees alternative routes to and from their homes and businesses.
Continued growth is something Liberty Twp. officials have in their sights for a planned interchange north of Liberty Way at Millikin Road.
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New interchanges, or the expansion of existing ones, mean not only easier access for residents and employees, but also those looking to shop, dine and play, officials said. Interstate 75’s exits in Butler County, for example, see approximately 140,000 vehicles worth of traffic each day, according to Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance.
“You’ve got an opportunity (as a business) to really position yourself for interstate frontage and having success for accessibility,” Hinson said. “It’s all about location, location, location. If you can make it easily accessible for your customer, if it’s something people see on a daily basis, it helps build your brand awareness.”
East-west access between two of the area’s largest interstates also is important, he said.
“Connectivity to I-71 and I-75 through Warren and Butler counties I think is a mainstay because these interstates are like a magnet,” Hinson said. “It pulls from other areas and when you can do that, you’ve really got something because that gives you sustainability.”
Originally opened as a partial interchange in 1972 to accommodate increased traffic to Kings Island, the Western Row interchange was first designed for traffic exiting I-71 north and entering I-71 south.
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“Every year, millions of guests come through our turnstiles, they drive these roads leading to Kings Island and they’re coming for one reason, and that is to create memories with their families and friends,” said Mike Koontz, Kings Island’s vice president and general manager. “We are thankful that, just outside our gates, our local, county (and) state government bodies look to the future by working on the communities they have to improve the access and mobility on the area’s roadways.”
Since the opening of the Western Row interchange, Mason officials began driving conversations around the possibility for an advanced manufacturing and engineering hub that a full access interchange could support.
Mason Mayor Victor Kidd said his city’s growth, and the Western Row interchange itself, has been possible through “strong partnerships and thoughtful land use planning that goes back decades,” Kidd said.
“At its core, strong economic development is not just about planning for the opportunity in front of you, but the one coming 15 or 20 years down the road,” he said.