Monday, September 29, 2003

High cost of I-75 fix could shelve other plans

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fixing I-75 by adding lanes - and possibly light rail - might be so expensive that other area highway projects could be discarded or delayed.

Highway planners are scheduled to vote on recommendations today on more than $2 billion in proposed projects to reduce traffic jams along Greater Cincinnati's portion of one of the nation's most vital roadways.

"That is the whole premise behind fiscal constraint," said Bob Koehler, the division manager for transportation planning for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the region's transportation planning agency. "The improvements will go into the mix and will compete against all other projects."

A committee overseeing a three-year study on what to do about I-75 is considering several options. Recommendations include:

• Widening the highway to six lanes in Hamilton County and five lanes in Butler and Warren counties for $1.56 billion.

• Building a light rail line for about $1 billion, which would reduce but not eliminate the need to add lanes.

Recommendations approved today will be passed onto the full OKI board, which must approve them to make the project eligible for federal funding.

The OKI board this fall will start to update its 30-year plan. The plan also needs to consider how much money will be coming to the region in the future, meaning some transportation projects might have to shrink or wait to cover the I-75 project.

Beyond the traditional federal highway funding process, other sources of money include Ohio's transportation funding agency, and the possibility of a special congressional appropriation.

"When you talk about transportation funding, you're always having to make difficult decisions," OKI spokesman Allen Freeman said. "This shows the importance all of us coming together as a region ... not only solving the problems, but finding the funds to solve the problems."



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