In 2009, the Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a feasibility study for the interchange at Interstate 71 and Routes 36/37 between Delaware and Sunbury.
The results weren't pretty.
"The existing ... interchange is deficient and the Ohio Department of Transportation is currently involved in a number of initiatives to relieve congestion and improve safety conditions," the study concluded. "However, with significant growth and expansion predicted in this area, a more comprehensive solution may be required."
The situation at the interchange became more pressing earlier this month when the Simon Property Group of Indianapolis and Tanger Factory Outlet Centers of North Carolina announced they would jointly develop a new, 350,000-square-foot outlet mall with at least 90 stores just to the west of the interchange.
The developers said the mall would be open for the 2014 holiday shopping season.
ODOT officials said the existing diamond interchange was constructed more than 40 years ago and is the only interstate access in the central and northern part of Delaware County. More than 30,000 vehicles use the interchange each day to enter or exit I-71.
Because queuing on the exit ramps at the interchange had routinely extended onto the freeway, causing operational and safety concerns, ODOT recently embarked on a $3.9 million interchange improvement project that was completed the day before Thanksgiving.
"I won't say that it was a short-term fix," said ODOT spokeswoman Nancy Burton, "because it's got more life than that -- but the safety improvements did not address the long-term capacity issues we've identified at the interchange."
ODOT is contemplating the construction of an additional interchange either to the north or south of the existing interchange to alleviate congestion as Delaware County continues to grow. Burton said the department will take every measure to ensure Simon and Tanger provide adequate infrastructure to support their development.
"The recent changes addressed immediate safety concerns, but to say, 'oh my gosh, here comes a mall and we're headed for disaster,' that's just not true," she said. "We'll sit down with the county and local municipalities and find out how the developers plan to cope with their traffic so that it doesn't become any more congested."
County Engineer Chris Bauserman said while ODOT is responsible for the interchange, his department will require a traffic-impact study and a plan from the developers on how to mitigate the effects of an increased load.
"We'll have the authority to approve the site plan and any of the local road extensions that would service the mall," he said. "As of now, we haven't had a meeting or any discussions with them. I'd say 2014 is an aggressive schedule, but not unobtainable. But there's a lot of work to be done between now and then."