With the final public hearing out of the way, the Ohio Department of Transportation and its partners are nearly ready to move forward and finalize funding for a new interchange on Interstate 71 south of U.S. Route 36 and state Route 37.

More than 200 people attended a July 11 public hearing by ODOT to see updates to the project's timeline, funding strategy and construction plan.

ODOT District 6 spokeswoman Nancy Burton said turnout was impressive, but not surprising given the scope of the project. She said there were a similar number of people at the last meeting and more than 400 at ODOT's first hearing about the project last year.

"It's a good thing," she said. "It tells us about the level of interest and that people care about their community and where this goes. We'd much rather have a hearing and open house with many, many people."

The department is required to continue soliciting comments and concerns until Aug. 11. Until then, residents can submit questions or comments to ODOT regarding the information presented at recent meetings.

Steve Fellenger, an ODOT engineer serving as project manager on the interchange, said the majority of comments since the interchange's announcement have stressed that ODOT "couldn't build it fast enough."

"While we are still getting a lot of comments ... initial feedback appears that folks are eager for construction," he said in an email.

When the comment period is complete, ODOT will begin finalizing funding plans.

An estimated $162 million will be required to complete the massive, six-phase plan that will take an estimated 17 years, eventually connecting the new interchange to routes 36/37 east to Sunbury and west near Africa Road.

For the first phase, which could begin next year, funding is largely determined. Northgate Land Co. LLC and other nearby developers will pay for the bulk of the work and have committed more than $26 million for the first stage alone. Throughout the project, several sources are contributing funds.

The village of Sunbury also would chip in $100,000 for the first phase, and its New Community Authority – designed to collect and handle taxes from developments such as Northgate – is committed for more than $11 million in the first phase and more than $33 million in the third phase.

Next, ODOT will request additional funding from the state Transportation Review and Advisory Council, which awards funds for large-scale projects each year.

While things may seem to be advancing quickly on the project, Fellenger said he hopes people don't get ahead of themselves. The interchange is still years away.

"Realistically, we are still about a year away from advertising the first phase of construction," he said. "Once environmental is cleared, then additional detail design will occur, with construction potentially beginning in late 2018."

For a full funding and planning breakdown or to submit comments on the project, visit tinyurl.com/ODOTinterchange.

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