The heavily traveled southeast U.S. Route 33 corridor, which carries commuters between Lancaster and Columbus and helps support the region's economy, remains a top priority on the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission's list of competitive advantage projects.

MORPC, in collaboration with Columbus 2020, works with government and business leaders to develop a list of infrastructure projects every two years. That list regularly is shared with the Ohio General Assembly and Congress.

There is no money allocated for any of the 43 priority projects on this year's list, which are located in 10 counties with a total estimated costs of more than $5.2 billion.

"I wouldn't necessarily say they're a wish list, but they're short- and long-term priorities," said Nathaniel Kaelin, MORPC's sustainability officer. "We use them for advocacy to communicate to state and federal legislators what projects we'd like to advance."

The U.S. Route 33 corridor is used by an average of 50,000 vehicles daily, according to MORPC, and has evolved over the years, including the newly constructed Carroll interchange.

The plan for the southeast U.S. Route 33 corridor, as prioritized on the lists for Fairfield and Franklin counties, includes construction of new interchanges at Bixby and Pickerington roads with an estimated cost of between $298.7 million and $370.1 million.

Other projects identified for the corridor include modifying the U.S. Route 33-Interstate 270 interchange; converting the roadway to a four-lane freeway from state Route 317-Hamilton Road to state Route 674-Gender Road; converting the road to a four-lane freeway from state Route 674-Gender Road to Hill Road-Diley Road; and converting it to a four-lane freeway from Hill Road-Diley Road to the Carroll interchange.

The benefits outlined by MORPC include:

* Maintaining competitive infrastructure by increasing capacity and relieving congestion on a statewide highway corridor identified by Access Ohio 2040.

* Adding value to the transportation system by creating a limited-access corridor extending from the interstate system to southeastern Fairfield County.

* Supporting the aggressive economic development efforts and job growth goals of the Fairfield 33 Alliance.

* Aligning with existing planning documents, including the 2004 U.S. 33 Corridor Study.

* Potentially supporting public transit because the corridor could be used for additional workforce-access transit service between Columbus and Lancaster.

"It's obviously a large corridor for commuting," Kaelin said. "But there also are efforts to increasing the development activity along this corridor between Columbus and Lancaster."

Canal Winchester officials are in talks with NorthPoint Development LLC of Kansas City, Missouri, related to 110.2 acres along Bixby Road. The city, with hopes for opening a new area for industrial development, plans to purchase the property and sell it to NorthPoint.

NorthPoint is one of the largest industrial developers in the country.

"An interchange would certainly help immensely, not only with the amount of traffic that goes through there but also, it would help open up more land, with new industry there," Canal Winchester City Councilman Bob Clark said. "We've had money (earmarked) for a Bixby Road interchange in the past, but the Carroll interchange became more important."

According to MORPC, a proposed new interchange at U.S. Route 33 and Bixby Road is estimated to cost between $72.8 million and $93.2 million.

"It's our understanding that none of these projects are programmed right now, and with state and federal conversations about infrastructure funding and the state conversation about the user fee (gas tax) for motor vehicle fuel, we could see more revenue and potential to do projects like this," Kaelin said.

Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed an 18-cent increase in the gasoline tax, the first increase since 2005, to maintain current road conditions.

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