Thursday, September 18, 2003

I-75 talk all about high cost

More road? And/or rail? It sounds ugly for many

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER - For Dave Balsmeyer, the dilemma over what to do about traffic on Interstate 75 has a simple, if unappealing, solution.

"If we can't build a new interstate around Dayton and Cincinnati, the best way to fix it is a massive big interstate," said Balsmeyer of Middletown, one of about 20 area residents who attended a public workshop on the I-75 problem Tuesday.

"I'm not in favor of that, but there doesn't appear to be any other way."

Tuesday's meeting was held by officials who are conducting a three-year, $6 million study on I-75, which is drawing to a conclusion. Two more such forums, legally required for such studies, are planned for tonight in Lockland and Wednesday night in Erlanger.

The committee overseeing the study is scheduled to vote Sept. 29 on final alternatives for making more room on the congested, out-of-date freeway.

The primary alternatives being considered are widening the highway to four, five or even six lanes each way, a new light rail line or a combination.

Each is expensive both financially and socially: Light rail is almost $1 billion alone but would not solve traffic congestion at rush hour in 30 years. And Hamilton County voters last fall overwhelmingly defeated a proposed sales tax increase that would have helped pay for a new rail transit system.

Expanding the highway to six lanes in Hamilton County and to five lanes in Butler and Warren counties would solve the long-term traffic problem, planners say. But that is estimated to cost $1.56 billion and would require 160 acres to be taken through developed areas.

A mix of four lanes in each direction and a light rail line with frequent trains would cost $1.8 billion and need 23 acres and no structures.

"I understand there are challenges in convincing others to make a lifestyle change and even vote for it, but light rail is something we have to do," said Christine Matacic, a Liberty Township trustee.

Matacic, who was also at Tuesday's meeting, is a member of the board of trustees of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, which could decide on whether to adopt the I-75 committee's recommendations as early as Oct. 9. Such approval is necessary for any project to receive federal funding.


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