Travelers of the Interstate 70 and Interstate 270 corridor near Reynoldsburg during rush hour know there has to be a better way.
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is seeking public input on the proposed fix: a multiphase, yearslong construction project aimed at reducing congestion and increasing safety along the interstates and at the Brice Road interchange.
The Far East Freeway project follows a 2016 study on the growing regional travel demand between downtown Columbus and its eastern suburbs.
The project is among several proposed in central Ohio for which funding is being sought from the Ohio Department of Transportation's Transportation Review Advisory Council.
The TRAC reviews new 'transportation projects that have a total project cost greater than $12 million and that "add transportation capacity and are critical to the mobility, economic development and quality of life of the residents of Ohio," according to a MORPC release.
The first phase of the Far East project, expected to cost $136.7 million, would replace the southbound I-270 to eastbound I-70 loop ramp with a flyover ramp and construct auxiliary lanes along eastbound I-70 between I-270 and Brice Road. Officials are requesting $74.6-million for phase 1 in TRAC funds for fiscal years 2020 and 2022.
The ramps would replace the cloverleaf style and get their name because they allow motorists to cross a ramp overtop of -- or "fly over" -- the interstate and eliminate the weaving of drivers both exiting and entering the road, said Nathaniel Kaelin, MORPC economic-development and infrastructure officer.
"Now when you enter the interchange you're presorting your destination instead of having to get on and merge quickly," Kaelin said.
Flyover ramps recently were installed at the state Route 315 and I-270 interchange on the north side and at the U.S. Route 23 and I-270 interchange near Grove City on the south side, Kaelin said.
If funding is approved, construction on the first phase is expected to begin in 2022, according to MORPC. Each phase of construction would take several years.
The second and third phases would be done simultaneously -- at an estimated cost of $158.3 million -- to reconfigure the north half of the Brice Road interchange and construct westbound ramps to I-270. It also would replace the Brice Road bridge and reconfigure the southern half of the Brice Road interchange.
Officials are seeking $53.6 million in TRAC funds for the second and third phases in fiscal 2022 and 2024.
An average of 141,000 vehicles travel the stretch of I-70 between I-270 and Brice Road each day, Kaelin said. By 2040, MORPC predicts that number will climb to 187,000, Kaelin said.
Reynoldsburg believes infrastructure improvements would help lay the groundwork for a renewed Brice Road, admittedly among the city's "toughest challenges," said Andrew Bowsher, the city's development director.
The city's 2018 Comprehensive Plan calls for the area along Brice Road to be an Innovation District, with a focus on attracting logistics, light industrial, warehousing and technology uses and "capitalizing" on the I-70 corridor, Bowsher said.
Getting the TRAC funding is "critical" to moving the projects forward, officials said.
"We hope it will lead to the redevelopment of the Consumer Square Shopping Center. It impacts our freight and logistics industry and the ability to get to Rickenbacker International Airport," Kaelin said. "When I think back to projects that have been funded in the past, you'll hear TRAC board members talk about the public input. We love to see the comments coming in and they help us know we're going in the right direction."
According to the MORPC news release, other projects put before the TRAC from the MORPC area also include:
Big Walnut interchange
The Big Walnut interchange project involves constructing a new Interstate 71 interchange at Big Walnut Road near Alum Creek State Park.
The new interchange would provide a third access point to I-71 for Delaware County residents and businesses and is anticipated to be labeled as Exit 124. The project includes road improvements in an approximate half-mile vicinity. Plans also incorporate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a potential Park & Ride facility.
Delaware County engineer Chris Bauserman's request is for Tier II status only. A Tier II status means that after the preliminary work is done and a preferred alternative is selected, the project will have to go before TRAC again to be granted Tier I status, according to information from MORPC. Only Tier I projects are allowed to go into construction.
Funding is not being sought for the project.
The Point project: Routes 36 and 37
The Point project in Delaware involves widening U.S. Route 36 and state Route 37 from one to two lanes in each direction. The project includes replacing the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge over routes 36 and 37 and would alleviate one of Delaware County's most congested bottlenecks. The project also includes construction of additional turn lanes at the 36/37 intersection and the state Route 52 intersection at 36/37.
The city of Delaware's request is for $8 million for construction in 2022.
I-71 North/Stringtown Road to I-270
The project would add a northbound express lane between the I-71/Stringtown Road and I-270/I-71 interchanges.
The project consists of resurfacing and widening of I-71 northbound to extend the express lane and remove the northbound weave between the two interchanges.
ODOT District 6's request is for $10 million for construction in 2021.
I-270/Route 23 interchange
This project would involve removing two cloverleaf ramps, constructing two new signalized ramps, rehabilitating two bridge structures and resurfacing portions of I-270 and U.S. Route 23 on the south outerbelt.
ODOT District 6's request is for $13 million for construction in 2021.
U.S. Route 33 at Pickerington, Allen
This project involves removing the intersections along U.S. Route 33 from Pickerington Road to Allen Road. Those intersections would be replaced with an interchange facility between the Hill-Diley Road and Winchester Road (Carroll) interchanges.
ODOT District 5's request is for $10 million for right-of-way acquisition in 2023.
Route 33/161 at Post Road
The project at the U.S. Route 33/state Route 161 interchange at Post Road includes two new loop ramps that would eliminate the left-turn conflicts to enter the U.S. Route 33 ramps. The intersections with both the east and west ramp terminals would be controlled via multilane roundabouts to ensure viable traffic operations well into the future.
Union County's request is for $9.25 million for construction in 2022.
One-page fact sheets on the projects are available at morpc.org/tool-resource/funding-grants.
The public is encouraged to provide comments or any additional information to set the priorities, including advantages and/or disadvantages of projects, the MORPC release said.
MORPC will review and consider comments during the prioritization and plan to recommend regional priorities for adoption during the September business meetings, starting Sept. 4 with the community advisory committee.
The priorities are expected to be presented to TRAC at a public hearing Sept. 11 and be submitted formally by Oct. 15 -- the date of the last TRAC public meeting.
Those interested in commenting on proposed projects should do so by writing to Dina Lopez, MORPC, 111 Liberty St., Suite 100, Columbus, 43215; sending a fax to 614-233-0750; or emailing email@example.com.
The deadline to submit comments is Aug. 9.