Olentangy Valley News

Leaders seek funds for Route 750 work after zoo's rebuff

Township must find $300,000 to receive grants for $7.7 million project; nearby zoo says it can't help

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The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will not provide financial support for a project to widen a stretch of state Route 750 east of the zoo.

Liberty Township has secured millions of dollars in grant funding from the state and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission for the project, which would widen and add lanes to Route 750 between Sawmill Parkway and Wellington Boulevard. As part of the project, Sawmill Parkway also would be widened at its intersection with Route 750.

That grant funding, however, is contingent on a $300,000 local match for the $7.7 million project.

Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the defeat of the zoo's 1.25-mill, permanent property-tax levy in May helped lead to zoo officials' decision not to contribute to the local match.

"We absolutely support it," she said. "We just don't have the funds available to financially support it."

Previously, multiple township and city of Powell officials said the zoo should help pay for the project because it will benefit greatly from the work.

Township and Powell officials met July 8 to discuss possible ways to fund the match after the zoo's decision. Liberty Township Administrator Dave Anderson proposed the city and township split the cost down the middle at $150,000 each.

Anderson said the township could raise money for its portion of the match by imposing a $5 annual license-plate fee on its residents. He estimates the fee, if implemented by the trustees, would raise more than $80,000 per year.

"It's a revenue stream that we haven't tapped into, and the trustees are favorably impressed with the need," he said.

Powell Councilman Tom Counts said it was helpful to know township residents would pay a fee that would go specifically to the project. He said some city residents were concerned they would pay twice for the project because they pay income taxes to Powell and a portion of their property taxes go to the township.

"I think one of the concerns that we all had was that, we're part of the township, so theoretically, we'd be contributing twice: once through the township and once through the city," he said. "One of the things that I hadn't heard before was this permissive license fee as a source of funds."

Councilman Richard Cline said it would be difficult to explain to city residents why council was allocating funds to a project outside city limits.

"The question that I keep hearing is: 'I'm already paying Liberty Township taxes -- why should my Powell taxes go to build a road that's not even in Powell?' " he said.

Cline said he also was concerned the fix between the zoo and Sawmill Parkway would just push traffic issues farther east on Route 750.

Anderson said Powell residents will thank their council members for supporting the project when it relieves traffic congestion in and around the city during the zoo's winter Wildlights display and other high-traffic events.

"I bet, come December, people will think you're brilliant for supporting (the project)," he said.

Ferzan Ahmed, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation's District 6, said the state is ready to begin acquiring rights of way for the project, which could begin as soon as spring 2015.

"In order for that to happen, we need a financial commitment as soon as possible," he said.

If the local match is not secured, the project could be put on hold indefinitely.

The proposal represents the third phase of a project to address traffic issues near the zoo. In the first phase, completed in 2007, Route 750 was relocated south of the zoo.

In the second phase, completed in 2012, state Route 257 was widened at its intersection with Route 750, just west of the zoo.

Ahmed said the zoo supported the first phase of the project by donating all the rights of way needed for the relocation. The zoo did not directly supply funds for either phase.

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