MOUNT VERNON — Progress is being made on widening I-71 from U.S. 36 in Delaware County through Morrow County, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Environmental studies are being conducted, with completion expected later this year, said Nancy Burton, spokeswoman for ODOT’s District 6.
Funding for the design work for the 25-mile stretch of road has been earmarked for 2011 by the Transportation Review Advisory Council.
Burton said the earliest the project would start is 2016, and would have a projected price tag of $171.3 million.
“I attended the March meeting of [TRAC]. At this meeting the director of ODOT indicated that TRAC has a new draft of a priority list, and indicated they moved the third travel lane on Interstate 71 in Morrow County up on this priority list,” said Ohio Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl, R-Mount Vernon, in an e-mail being circulated to generate support.
In her push to change the traffic flow through Morrow County, Ruhl is encouraging her constituency to urge TRAC to expedite the project.
“I am asking for your support in contacting TRAC. Help me fight for the need to prioritize this project,” Ruhl said.
The public can submit opinions about the project to TRAC until the close of business on Monday, May 3. Comments can be e-mailed to TRAC@dot.state.oh.us or by regular mail to Ed Kagel, P.E.-TRAC Coordinator, Office of Systems Planning and Program Management, 1980 W. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43223.
Public comments are expected to be reviewed May 13.
According to Ruhl, important aspects of adding a third lane in both directions are safety, economic development in the region and convenience. She encourages supporters of the project to include personal experiences in the comments.
“I’m not backing off,” Ruhl said. “I don’t want to see them just do all the preliminary work and not do the construction. I am going to keep pushing; that’s why we need public input.”
Burton said it was never ODOT’s intention to not widen the interstate through Morrow County, but it was simply a matter of economics.
“For a good four or five years this has been discussed in the district,” Burton said. “It’s a commitment on the part of ODOT to see this happen along with Margaret Ann Ruhl, commissioners and mayors who have spent more than a year trying to figure out how to move this project forward for funding.”
Ruhl said she is concerned the current desire to widen I-71 through Morrow County will diminish as progress continues on the rail system.
“Widening of I-71 is long over due. It’s getting worse as more people travel,” Ruhl said. “If this project doesn’t get completed before the passenger train, it will never get completed.”
Ruhl, who is on the House’s transportation committee, said the future of rail makes sense in the state of Ohio, and anticipates the use of medians along interstate highways for rail.
“Right now we have to use existing track. We can’t go on private property,” Ruhl said. “I can see in the future where we would use existing medians for elevated trains on cement pillars.”
That system, she said, could travel up to 150 mph and is being considered elsewhere in the country.
A project started in the 1990s, there are only two sections of I-71 that remain at two lanes, Burton said. One section is in Morrow County; the other section starts just south of Franklin County.