A portion of Interstate 70 is expected to be safer when state transportation officials soon finish a $27 million project to widen the highway between U.S. Route 40 and Ohio 72 east of Springfield.
But area leaders say it’s critical for Ohio Department of Transportation find additional funds to widen the remaining portion of I-70 in Clark County from Ohio 72 to Enon Road to six lanes to boost economic development and to prevent serious accidents.
“From a safety standpoint, going from three lanes to two from Enon to 72 is going to create a bottleneck, and there’s a potential for accidents and we’re very concerned about it,” Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said.
Construction to add a lane along both sides of I-70 between U.S. 40 and Ohio 72 began in June 2010 and is expected to be completed by September.
Current construction is part of a decade-old plan to add a third lane to 23.8 miles of the interstate in both directions from Ohio 4 to the Madison County Line. The plan had been that after the current stretch between U.S. 40 and 72 was completed, work would begin in 2015 on widening I-70 from Enon Road to U.S. 68 and then widening U.S. 68 to Ohio 72.
But because of budget problems, ODOT announced in January that the $73.7 million project would be delayed until at least 2036 along with dozens of other projects statewide.
Area leaders protested the delay in April at a hearing in Columbus, telling ODOT officials it would hinder economic development efforts and pose safety risks to motorists.
“We believe the need is obvious,” said Springfield Planning and Zoning Administrator Bryan Heck told them. “It’s critically important to our region and to the state as a whole.”
Heck was joined at the meeting by officials from ODOT District 7 as well as city and county leaders, including Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes and city commissioner Joyce Chilton.
Lohnes and others say they are pleased with the improvements ODOT has made to I-70 so far, but hope current funding allocated for maintance of the roads and bridges along the less than 10 mile stretch will allow for the project to be completed sooner than 2036.
“It’s terrific they’re going to finish this latest portion. But certianly, I think they should reconsider plans for this last (stretch),” Lohnes said.
He and Chilton said the lack of three lanes in both directions along I-70 causes traffic congestion on one of the heaviest traveled sections of Clark County.
Mayor Warren Copeland called I-70 the major “lifeline” for the city Springfield and one of the selling points used to draw new businesses to the area.
“We need three lanes all the way through as soon as possible, but we have to figure out how to get the money to pay for it,” Copeland said. “I don’t know exactly what will happen or when, but clearly we need to keep making our case.”
The nearly 7-mile stretch along I-70 is now at about 90 percent capacity with too many cars and trucks traveling the road daily, and the problem is expected get worse in 20 years, Scott Schmid, director of the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee said after the delay was announced.
“A 2002 study projected daily traffic would average about 70,000 by 2025. We’re where we forecasted we would be in 2025 today,” Schmid said then. “We’re looking at bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way through. We’re approaching a critical need today.”
The TCC study also showed that traffic has increased from an average of about 47,000 motorists daily to up to 70,000 daily along U.S. 68 to Ohio 72.
Lt. Matthew Cleaveland said during the winter months after construction began two years ago, 40 percent of crashes reported to the Ohio Highway Patrol Springfield Post occurred along the two lane stretch.
“I-70 accounts for one in three to one in four crashes that we handle in Clark County. It is our No. 1 crash site,” Cleaveland said. “There was a slight increase due to construction. We’re anticipating (the end of construction) will reduce crashes.”
Crews now are striping the road and installing cable wires in the median, and they also plan to add rumble strips, reflective lights and exit signs, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Mandi Abner.
Clark County Engineer John Burr said the completion of the construction between Route 40 and 72 should improve traffic flow in that area, but will likely shift problems to Springfield and Harmony townships.
“I’m glad to see the expansion, but it’s going to shift bottlenecks to (other areas),” Burr said. “It needs to be a priority for ODOT. With the amount of traffic on this road it needs to be a priority to complete this three lane expansion that they have been working on for decades.”