By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The state proposes to sink $350.9 million into Interstate 75 in Southwest Ohio - everything local officials were hoping for - as part of $3.7 billion worth of statewide highway projects announced Tuesday.
A new lane will be added to the north-south corridor in parts of Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties and left exit ramps will be removed, according to the draft plan by Ohio's Transportation Review Advisory Council.
"I-75 is one of the most important corridors of commerce in the country," said Chip Gerhardt, one of two Hamilton County representatives on the nine-member TRAC. "As you get into Butler and Hamilton and then come to the Brent Spence Bridge, there are a number of choke points and traffic hazards that need corrected."
I-75's intersections with I-74, Mitchell Avenue, Ohio 63 and Ohio 122 - among others - will undergo tens of millions of dollars' worth of construction to improve traffic flow. TRAC also included $12 million to start reconfiguring the approach to the Brent Spence - a project that's expected to run some $250 million before even taking into account the cost of the bridge itself. Planners are looking to Congress for much of the rest of the $750 million it'll take to replace the Brent Spence.
Despite all the plans for I-75, don't look for the highway to turn into an orange-barrel obstacle course anytime soon: Major work won't start until 2008 or later.
The state is calling the $3.7 billion outlay its biggest transportation program since the Interstate highway system was built a half-century ago. The money will come from the recent gas tax increase, Gov. Bob Taft's jobs creation program and expected federal funding, TRAC spokeswoman Melissa Cook said.
The recommended projects focus on improving existing roads rather than building new ones.
"We're looking at rehabbing and rebuilding a lot of our major, very stressed highways," Cook said.
I-75 wasn't the only area transportation fixer-up coming in for some money Tuesday:
Metro got $3.5 million toward the $9.4 million expansion of its bus transfer center on Fifth Street in downtown Cincinnati. That's in addition to $4 million in federal money already received. Metro expects construction to start in the summer.
Hamilton County got $11 million of the $56 million it needs to build parking garages for The Banks - the proposed riverfront development. The Banks already had a $10.4 million federal grant, but the rest of the funding is not lined up.
I-275 got $95 million for a new lane from Springfield Pike to U.S. 42 and improvements at the Ohio 32 interchange.
Clermont County got $4.4 million for preliminary work on its Eastern Corridor study.
"We're pleased to see this kind of investment in our regional infrastructure," said Allen Freeman, spokesman for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Council of Governments, Greater Cincinnati's transportation agency. "This is a significant amount of money."
One of the region's few losers appeared to be U.S. 22/Ohio 3, also known as Montgomery Road. Warren and Hamilton counties wanted help widening the major artery but got only $5.2 million toward the $45.9 million cost.
"We were hoping to get to construction in 2008, but I don't see that in here at all," Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison said.
TRAC is an independent board that evaluates all requests for major road construction statewide and decides on behalf of the Ohio Department of Transportation which to fund.
The council will accept comments for 90 days before finalizing the list. The full list of projects can be found online at www.dot.state.oh.us/trac.
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