Warren County unable to find millions needed for roads

Growing county’s problems is part of national shortage.

Warren County has been unable to find the money to pay for more than $50 million in road improvements estimated to be needed to handle traffic east of Interstate 75 and the Miami Valley Gaming racino.

County Engineer Neil Tunison said there was no money for a $10 million Ohio 741 bypass suggested around the proposed Union Village development in Turtlecreek Twp.

In October, a regional agency rejected the county’s application for $6.5 million funding for the widening of Ohio 63 east from the racino, the first of three phases widening the road through the Ohio 741 intersection.

“Right now there just isn’t funding available for projects like that,” Tunison said. “There are just so many things that need to be done.”

Warren County’s problem is part of a regional, if not national, shortage of road funds.

The board overseeing federal highway funds in the Greater Cincinnati region awarded $44 million of $78 million in requests for road funds this year. Warren County’s Ohio 63 project was among $34 million turned down.

Compared to other projects in the region, the Ohio 63 widening was ranked less deserving in terms of traffic and crash data, according to Robert Koehler, deputy director of the OKI Regional Council of Governments.

Currently about 20,000 cars a day travel the area of Ohio 63 proposed for widening and there are 100 to 250 crashes per hundred million vehicle miles.

“In some years, that would have been enough,” Koehler said, noting Warren County has received federal funding for work at Fields-Ertel Road and Interstate 75 in Mason. “We couldn’t fund them all.”

On Friday, the county’s transportation improvement district is expected to approve almost $7 million in construction projects for road work at Ohio 48 and Mason-Morrow-Millgrove Road in South Lebanon and the extension of Innovation Way in Deerfield Twp.

But no money has been set aside for the Ohio 63 or Ohio 741 projects yet.

Complicating road-planning east of I-75 and the racino are state plans to sell about 1,000 acres of state land fronting Ohio 741 or Ohio 63.

Along with the bypass, a series of rotaries has also been proposed to manage traffic past the Otterbein-Union Village area along Ohio 741 up to Ohio 63.

Tunison said the developers of Union Village, Otterbein Senior Lifestlye Choices, should take responsibility for road improvements needed through this area.

“I think they need to figure out what to do with 741,” Tunison said, estimating the two-mile bypass would cost at least $10 million and might not be needed.

Otterbein favors the bypass, according to Gary Horning, vice president for marketing communications.

Tunison questioned whether traffic would justify the expense.

“Until we really get a handle on that, I’m not sure relocation of 741 would be needed,” Tunison said.

Even if the bypass made sense, “how would you fund it?” Tunison asked.

The shortage of road funds could be solved through an increase in gasoline taxes at the state or federal level. Kentucky is considering a gas tax hike, but none is currently proposed in Ohio or Washington D.C.

Brian Cunningham, spokesman for Ohio Department of Transportation District 8 in Warren County, said projects including the Ohio 63 widening and Ohio 741 bypass, are too “conceptual” at this point for decisions by the state transportation agency.

Barring new taxes or other road funding, motorists in this part of Warren County should expect to travel on some under-built roads.

“There’s infinitely more things that need to be done than we have money to do,” Cunningham said.

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