MOUNT VERNON — Representatives of the Ohio Department of Transportation want to establish closer communication with each of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Susan J. Wyant and Randy Comisford of ODOT District 5 told the Knox County Commissioners on Monday that the intention is part of a new business plan freshly published by the department and available online for general perusal.
The plan’s first initiative, titled “Target: Zero,” aims to reduce employee injuries by 20 percent and reduce crashes on Ohio’s roadways by 5 percent. New technologies will continue to be implemented, as will a maintenance quality survey reviewing every state route in detail at least one per year.
The second initiative is to help get Ohio’s business climate heating up by targeting certain projects for fast-track status, thus completing road changes and improvements as quickly as possible to promote business development. Roundtables will be held in each district to make ODOT more “business friendly.”
The third and fourth initiatives will focus on identifying patterns in order to define a statewide network of road and rail, and identifying best internal practices and ways to streamline ODOT operations. The remaining three initiatives focus on adopting best practices from the business world, promoting environmentally friendly practices, materials and technologies, and pursuing long-term legislative strategies.
One of the key elements Wyant discussed was the 3C “Quick Start” Intercity Passenger Rail system for which Ohio just received federal stimulus funding. The proposed rail system would connect Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland with a railroad system that would offer commuters an alternative for driving into those cities for work, shopping and entertainment.
Wyant said that in the future, the railroad line could serve as the root for an expanded rail system, perhaps with the next key part being an east and west rail line.
“Will you take our bike path for that?” Commissioner Bob Wise asked, referring to The Kokosing Gap Trail from Mount Vernon to Danville, the Mohican Valley Trail from Danville to Brinkhaven, and the still-being-constructed Heart of Ohio Trail from Centerburg to Mount Vernon.
“I would be very surprised to see that happen,” Wyant said, noting that most of the language about reversion to eminent domain in old railroad rights of way is language left over from contracts established over 100 years ago. She said building new railroads would likely be quicker than adapting older roadbeds.
Other road projects of local interest include the Ohio 95 corridor between Fredericktown and Interstate 71, and the interstate itself. Wyant said the remaining two-lane section of I-71 is slated for expansion to three lanes in both directions in the near future. She wasn’t familiar with Ohio 95, which the commissioners previously said needs safety improvements. Wise also identified the curve on U.S. 36 east of Millwood as a section of road ODOT should look at for safety reasons.
“You could improve the site by moving the road a little bit north,” he said.
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller asked Wyant how the state budget crunch has been hitting ODOT. Wyant said that, fortunately, the federal stimulus projects have been temporarily helping, although she is concerned about the future.
In other business, Matthew Kurtz of the Knox County Department of Job & Family Services met with the commissioners for his weekly session. Kurtz said Knox County suffered a rough December, with unemployment jumping another 0.6 percent, from 9.1 percent to 9.7 percent. This means that Knox, which had previously been lower than the U.S. average, has now matched it and is rising more rapidly than the national average, which went up only 0.3 percent last month.
Kurtz also noted a sharp rise in the number of counties now entering the highest current category, which is 14 percent or higher. The number of those counties doubled in December, with two counties (Highland and Ottawa) tying at 17.3 percent unemployment.