Columbus City Council expects to pass legislation Monday, July 26, authorizing Phase I of the I-71/70 interchange plan, but not before chiding the Ohio Department of Transportation for a breakdown in communication.

Columbus City Council expects to pass legislation Monday, July 26, authorizing Phase I of the I-71/70 interchange plan, but not before chiding the Ohio Department of Transportation for a breakdown in communication.

At a public hearing July 14, some council members said they were caught off guard by ODOT's urgent request that the legislation needed to be passed by the end of the month.

Council basically must approve legislation giving the transportation department permission to work in the city's rights of way, which essentially begins construction of Phase I along I-670 at Leonard Avenue to Long Street.

The hearing was held by the Public Service and Transportation Committee, chaired by Hearcel Craig. Council members in attendance said they had just been notified in recent weeks of the pressing need for the legislation, which will launch one of the largest transportation efforts in the city's history. All said they recognize the importance of the project but said they didn't believe they had time to effectively communicate the work to area residents.

Charleta Tavares said the timing "is not fair to us and certainly not fair to the broader community."

"It's disconcerting to me to have to pass this legislation by the end of July," said Tavares, who was joined by fellow committee member Priscilla Tyson, as well as Eileen Paley and Andy Ginther.

A. Troy Miller and council president Michael Mentel, who will abstain from the final vote, were not in attendance.

Tom Wester, executive director of ODOT's District 6, agreed that transportation officials "dropped the ball" in their communication with council. ODOT had been in discussions with the Department of Public Service but had not passed the information along to council.

Nevertheless, inaction by the end of July could cause a two-year delay in Phase I and add $65-million to the overall $260-million cost of the project.

"That's a lot of money," he said.

Pending council's approval, work on the first phase will begin next year and be completed by 2013.

ODOT said the fix is needed because of traffic weaving problems and congestion. That section of the freeway is considered to have among the highest accident rates in the state. The project will improve traffic and accomplish many other things, both functionally and aesthetically, such as the creation of bike lanes, bridge caps at Long and Spring streets, and wider sidewalks.

But some South and Southeast Side residents aren't pleased with the project. Bill Curlis of German Village has asked council to delay the work so that area residents could fully understand what effect Phase I would have on their neighborhoods.

At least three ramps at Broad, Long and Spring streets could be closed while the work is done.

"This is the first time the council has asked the citizens, has heard from the citizens, about the project," he said, noting that the planning has been eight years in the making. "We just want council to work with us and understand the impact (Phase I) will have."

gseman@thisweeknews.com