Traffic congestion for miles in every direction is common at Interstate 270 and U.S. Route 23 during morning and afternoon rush hour as motorists vie for position through the outdated cloverleaf interchange.
"The problem we have is, these interchanges are spaced too close together, so traffic is crossing," said Leslie Montgomery, Ohio Department of Transportation project director. "If you drive this every day, you know it's a test of courage. ... You pretty much put your foot on the gas and hope no one clips you at 70 miles per hour."
ODOT officials shared the department's new vision for Route 23 during the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce's Groundhog Day community forecast breakfast, held Feb. 1 at the Brookside Country Club.
That new vision for the interchange involves eliminating two of the four cloverleaf ramps to create a more modern, partial-diamond interchange, Montgomery said.
"No longer will you have to dive on while someone else is diving off," she said.
Two northbound express lanes, trenched beneath the existing roadway, will clear through traffic from Route 23, between I-270 and Flint Road. The express lanes will remove an estimated 50,000 automobiles a day from the busy intersection at Campus View Boulevard, Montgomery said.
A gateway to Worthington also will be created for the project: Metal fences with "Worthington" written on them will span the bridge over the intersection on Route 23.
Brick pillars with the Worthington logo will be placed on both ends of the fencing; regular streetlights will be replaced with more decorative streetlights; and mast-arm traffic signals will replace those dangling from overhead wires.
Sidewalks and signalized crossings will make Route 23 more pedestrian-friendly, Montgomery said.
"It's going to look a lot better when we're done," she said.
Prep work along Route 23 will begin in the summer, Montgomery said, with the major construction on the ramps occurring in 2014.
Also in 2014, ODOT officials hope to find funding for improvements to the interstate in the area. If they're successful, all of the construction would wrap up at once in 2015, Montgomery said.
"To you, it would be seamless; it would look like one big project," she said.
Northbound traffic on Route 23 is expected to be maintained as normal throughout the project, and the ramps to the interstate will remain open, Montgomery said.
One southbound ramp will have to be closed through most of the project, however, exacerbating traffic problems in the area until construction is completed. "Southbound, you might want to find a new route for a while," Montgomery said.
In January 2012, ODOT announced that reconstruction of the interchange would be delayed for as long as 20 years because of flat revenues from the gas tax and rising construction costs, said Ferzan Ahmed, ODOT District 6 deputy director.
"We were in the red. It almost didn't happen," Ahmed said.
After the announcement, ODOT director Jerry Wray pulled all 12 district directors into a room and said they wouldn't leave until they find more money in the budget for major projects.
They committed to diverting $100 million of the $800 million operating budget to capital projects and accelerating other projects to earn more money from the federal government, Ahmed said. In the end, ODOT was able to come up with an additional $160 million for capital projects.
Ahmed said ODOT officials also hope to undertake the project at I-270 and state state Route 315, along with improvements farther north at state Routes 315 and 750 -- all in 2014.
"This is a good-news story," he said. "This is a story where government was working for you."