The public cost of improving the Interstate 71 corridor from Hamilton County north to the Kings Island Amusement Park has topped $65 million and is expected to rise close to $80 million as transportation officials take on a list of related projects planned into the next decade.
The projects are expected to improve traffic flow and safety, while providing a transportation network serving companies that are expected to create high-paying jobs.
In addition to the interchanges at Fields-Ertel and Western Row roads themselves, expected to cost up to $59 million, transportation planners have developed a schedule of work on roads expected to handle traffic from existing commuters and residents plus those brought in by anticipated growth.
By 2020, Irwin-Simpson Road, Kings Island Drive, Innovation Way, Duke Boulevard and Mason-Montgomery Road are also to be widened or otherwise improved to manage the traffic changes related to the interchange projects.
“We realized we need to fix the other roads in between,” Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison said.
The public funding of these projects will come federal and state transportation dollars, as well as Warren County and Mason.
On March 14, the bridge across I-71 on Socialville-Fosters Road will close for eight months, weather permitting, for improvements needed before Columbia Road is closed for a $12.5 million relocation expected to begin this fall.
The project — widening the road to five lanes, replacing the bridge and constructing a roundabout at Innovation Way — is expected to cost $6.4 million and temporarily block traffic crossing into Mason from the east side of I-71, including Festo US, a company that recently opened a new $50 million manufacturing and shipping center on Columbia Road.
In November, Atricure, a global bioscience manufacturer, relocated from multiple facilities near the Union Center interchange at Interstate 75 in West Chester into a $20 million, 90,000 square foot headquarters on Innovation Way in Mason. The company expects to add 50 jobs globally this year, some at the Mason location.
“By the end of 2016, we expect to grow to over 500 employees globally, up from 450 in 2015. Many of those new jobs will be Ohio based at our new facility,” Deanna Behrens, a marketing specialist for Atricure, said in an a series of emails.
The company has begun moving into the new facility, which enables it to consolidate its area workforce in one place, but is not expected to be entirely in its new building in Mason’s Oak Park business district until 2018.
“Our new headquarters will give us the platform to grow our employee base and to continue to make innovative progress in the fields of research, design and product manufacturing for the surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation. The ecosystem of companies in the Oak Park district offers a dynamic environment in addition to the city of Mason’s focus on a strong culture of wellness.” Behrens said.
Atricure was drawn to Mason by $2.9 million in incentives and assistance with site selection from the city, as well as the location on the I-71 corridor, Behrens said.
“Given the growth of the company, we would have still located new jobs to the area whether we were located in Mason or another part of the Cincinnati area,” she added.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is managing the $27.4 million I71/Western Row interchange improvement work, slated to begin in 2017 with completion estimated for June 2019.
This work will convert the partial interchange to a full interchange with construction of new ramps and auxiliary lanes. The reconstructed interchange will provide full access to and from I-71 and Western Row Road by adding a new exit ramp from southbound I-71 to Innovation Way and two northbound I-71 on-ramps from Western Row.
Within a mile of of the interchange, Mason City Manager Eric Hansen said there were 15,000 high-paying jobs. About eight million visitors a year are drawn to Kings Island, Great Wolf Lodge and professional tennis events at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, according to a state funding application.
The project would leave about 700 acres ready for commercial development, with 3,500 to 7,000 jobs projected, Hansen said.
“This has been identified for decades as a growth corridor,” Hansen said.
Mason, Deerfield Twp. and southwest Warren County will most benefit, but officials say the public investment, including the completion of the interchange at Western Row Road, will position the region and Ohio to capitalize as global companies look for homes in the Midwest.
“It’s ideally situated for commerce,” Hansen said. “”With a full interchange, they have immediate access south to Cincinnati and north to Columbus.”