Sketch on a napkin leads to start of $12M project

And it started out with County Commissioner David Young sketching out ideas on a cocktail napkin.

Joe Vogel of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 8 office in Lebanon said while other portions of the overall project have been completed or are under construction this portion of the multi-phase project will be the most dramatic.

Vogel and a number of other officials from the state, Warren County and Deerfield Twp. were on hand for the symbolic groundbreaking for the project in the former Park and Ride near the intersection of Fields-Ertel and Mason-Montgomery Road.

Vogel said the project will improve safety as well as increase capacity through that heavily traveled area that straddles Warren and Hamilton counties.

“It will also improve the ability for people to get to nearby businesses,” he said.

The new loop ramp will allow northbound I-71 traffic to bypass the current off-ramp and merge directly onto northbound Mason-Montgomery Road.

“This is one of the most important transportation projects in the region,” said Young. “Fields-Ertel has been among the top five projects.”

He said the project has three key goals: safety; alleviate congestion for residents, businesses, workers and customers; and economic development. Young said the Mason-Montgomery Road area is one of the most important corridors in the entire county and businesses there need to be maintained.

The project was something Young wanted to address when he ran for a commission seat nine years ago.

After Young was elected, he contacted the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments to find out how long it would take to build such a project. He was told it would take about 15 years.

Young said he and a friend were talking about the possibility at a nearby pub and he drew a rough sketch on the back of cocktail napkin. He said he started drawing it out his idea of getting vehicles on northbound I-71 out of the intersection and alleviate the congestion that 80,000 vehicles creates daily.

After Tuesday’s event, Young pulled out the napkin.

Early discussions about the project had estimates of between $50 million and $75 million which was not feasible. However, over the past seven years and working through ODOT’s design and review process and working with county Engineer Neil Tunison, Young’s napkin sketch evolved into a preferred alternative design that was eventually selected. Young said Tunison was critically important in keeping the project moving.

“It usually takes 15 years to touch a federal highway project,” Young said. “We’re going to be doing this in half the time and at a fraction of the cost.”

Mark Policinski, OKI executive director, said the area has experienced a tremendous amount of growth noting there are about 1,000 employers who employ about 20,000 people working in that area.

The new loop ramp is expected to be completed in the fall of 2015.

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