Construction is not likely for another three years, but the Ohio Department of Transportation expects to make decisions this year that could lead to a second Interstate 71 exit near U.S. Route 36.

Construction is not likely for another three years, but the Ohio Department of Transportation expects to make decisions this year that could lead to a second Interstate 71 exit near U.S. Route 36.

During their May 23 work session, Delaware County commissioners discussed an economic impact study that says a second I-71 interchange could generate nearly $1 billion a year by 2030 for the area.

The study was conducted by BaxStarr Consulting Group and predicts growth from 2012 through 2039. The county paid $40,000 from its Community Development Block Grant Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund for the study.

County economic development director Gus Comstock said the interchange could become a reality in less than three years if a developer with significant job potential expresses an interest in the project.

Ferzan Ahmed, Ohio Department of Transportation District 6 deputy director, told ThisWeek two developers have expressed interest in a new interchange.

Weiler-Nationwide Realty has expressed interest in an interchange north of the existing exit. Developer Pat Shivley, president of Guaranteed Co., has expressed interest in an interchange south of the current exit.

Both developers' engineers completed traffic studies. While both developers have expressed desire to fund the project, "We have not seen anything definitive," Ahmed said.

Ahmed told ThisWeek that the current interchange has a great deal of congestion, which is causing traffic accidents. ODOT had been examining these safety concerns at the same time that developers were looking at the area. This, he said, is how the concept of an entirely new interchange originated.

Comstock said, "Certain traffic requirements would place a southern interchange exit ... somewhere just south of the old truck weigh station. A northern interchange would not be as far north." The weigh station is on I-71 about a mile south of the existing interchange.

Now, ODOT is using its own engineer to determine whether improvements should be made to the existing interchange, or whether a north or south interchange should be constructed, Ahmed said.

"It is most likely that the solution would be a new interchange," he said, adding that decision will be made by Thanksgiving.

Ahmed said that he wasn't surprised that the study projections show so much growth. "The whole area is ripe for development," he said.

Bill LaFayette, vice president of economic analysis at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, told ThisWeek the study "shines a light on the opportunity" in the area. "I think that the potential for this kind of development really does exist," he said.

The BaxStarr study predicts an annual economic impact of $965 million in 2030. This number includes wages, purchases by the industries and employees spending their earnings on goods and services.

According to the study, a new interchange could bring in $332.2 million in wages by 2030 from jobs in the areas of retail, office, hotel and industrial.

The study used the IMPLAN model, a software program first developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service to perform impact analysis for planning. IMPLAN's database includes Ohio and Delaware County data for more than 500 industrial sectors and the ways in which those sectors interact with each other, households and government agencies.

The study also incorporated real estate forecasts and population and economic forecasts from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Comstock said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation recently approved $5 million for preliminary engineering studies for improvements planned at the Interstate 71 and state Route 36 interchange.

The total project cost is $114.1 million, of which $65.2 million would be for an interchange feeder road renovation. The county would fund that portion.

Comstock said funding sources for the $48.9 million for the cost of the interchange itself haven't yet been determined.

The study estimated any economic impact wouldn't begin until about 2015, since most business growth would require roads and other utilities.