By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON - The proposed Liberty Interstate 75 interchange could be put in the slow lane by the Butler County Transportation Improvement District.
At least one transportation board member, when the board meets Friday, wants to make widening the Ohio 4 Bypass the top priority, dropping the I-75/Hamilton-Mason Road interchange to second.
"We need to jump-start Bypass 4, and see how fast we can move that up the ladder," said Ed Shelton, a member of Hamilton City Council and the transportation board.
But changing priorities - and splintering the county's united support for the interchange - concerns Jim Blount, board president, and Christine Matacic, president of Liberty Township trustees.
Blount said the transportation board has received great cooperation from state and federal highway officials because of the county's united commitment to the interchange. It would connect I-75 and the Michael Fox Highway (Ohio 129) to Hamilton-Mason Road on the Liberty-West Chester township border.
"Are we going to lose all the work we've done if we put it on hold for two years?" Blount asked.
The Liberty interchange has been the transportation district's No. 1 project for two years, followed by widening Ohio 747 and the bypass.
Shelton wants Ohio 4 Bypass to be the top project when the transportation board applies for Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council funds May 7. Local funding for the $20-million project would be readily available from a Joint Economic Development District and tax-increment financing district on the Wal-Mart and Target developments at the bypass and Princeton Road, Shelton said.
Shelton also has a powerful ally in Butler County Commissioner Chuck Furmon, who said Wednesday he favors moving Bypass 4 to the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Liberty Township officials haven't been able to complete a Joint Economic Development District agreement for the interchange area after 18 months of negotiations.
A new state ruling on tax-increment financing districts, requiring approval of every property owner, also could delay interchange funding. The county's Liberty interchange tax-increment financing district encompasses Cox, Tylersville, Hamilton-Mason, Cincinnati-Dayton, Bulter-Warren and Princeton roads.
"If we need to get every person to sign it, then I'll do what I can to get it done. It won't be easy, but I'm confident I can get it taken care of," Matacic said.
County Engineer Greg Wilkens, a former transportation district director, said changing priorities wouldn't necessarily sidetrack the Liberty interchange.
"I see no reason why you can't move ahead with both of them at the same time," he said.
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