Big Ohio road projects could be delayed for more than a decade

Planned work on several Ohio road and bridge projects could be postponed by up to 19 years due to lack of funds and what the state's transportation director says was overcommitment by previous administrations.

Ohio Department of Transportation staffers made the projections during a Tuesday meeting of the Transportation Review Advisory Council, which must approve funding for large transportation projects.

They recommend delays of one to nine years for 13 projects and delays of 11 years or more for 21 projects that carry price tags of more than $12 million and are considered new - such as plans to add capacity, relieve congestion, boost economic development or build bypasses.

Projects affecting the Tri-State include five project slated for I-75. Four of the projects are a part of an ongoing improvements labeled the "Mill Creek Expressway Project" by ODOT. Those project would impact the areas between the Western Hills exit and the Norwood Lateral including adding an additional lane on both sides of the highway.

"It's pretty crazy. We thought it would be a lot sooner rather than later," Samantha Frashier said. "I can see maybe a year, something like that but why so long? Why is there no money to fix something that they've already started."

"It's not fair," Rayna Rollinson said. "It's not fair to anybody. It's not fair to the property owners, it's not fair to anybody. It's not fair to Ohio."

Rollinson has lived in a house off the Mitchell exit for sixteen years. One of the first phases of I-75 Mill Creek Expressway project took out all of the trees between her house and the highway.

"Now it's cracking the house, everything's sliding," she said. "We have wind coming from everywhere."

Rollinson has been waiting for the day when all of the construction will be complete.

"It's terrible that they're going to halt construction because it's still a mess," she said. "It's still a mess on the highway with traffic all of that."

A representative for the regional ODOT office says Rollinson will get the wall she's been waiting for to block her view of the highway without delay. The wall has already been funded and is included in a phase of construction already underway.

The other Tri-State I-75 project recommended for delay is between Glendale-Milford and Shepherd which involves redesign and improvements to the interchanges as well as roadway improvements.

Clermont County is also seeing a project slated for delay. The TRAC recommendation includes a halt on the I-275 and SR 32 interchange reconstruction project. The recommendation is to postpone the project from 2016 to 2019.

Department Director Jerry Wray said that the new projections are "a realistic and forthright assessment of ... what can reasonably be done" and that previous administrations made commitments without adequate funding in place.

"Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there simply is not enough money to fund their projects," said Wray, who also chairs the Advisory Council.

The projects that could see the longest delays are a $37.5 million plan for a U.S. 33 interchange in Franklin and Fairfield counties and a $165 million project for a portion of work on Interstate 90 in Cleveland.

Both had been planned for 2017 and are now planned for 2036.

The department says that it has roughly $100 million per year to spend on new construction and that the council received 72 applications last year for new transportation projects totaling nearly $10 billion.

Planning, design and construction of various phases of additional projects totaling $2 billion is already under way.

Wray said none of the changes would affect the department's priority to maintain and preserve roadways, and a department spokesman said none of the project phases under way would be postponed.

The projections were made assuming the state will get the same amount of federal funding in future years, Wray said.

The state also will review other avenues for increasing available funds such as reducing operating costs, leveraging assets and collecting revenue through privatizing certain operations.

Wray noted that the recommendations are not a priority list but a funding list based on when a project could be ready and when money would be available.

He said the department isn't "picking winners and losers." "We would love to do all these projects," he said. "They all have merit. They all reduce congestion and increase safety, have an economic development impact. But the reality is, as we are here today with our funding level, it's going to take a long time to get to all of them."

Currently the dates are just recommendations. The board will vote on the draft list at the end of the month and then the public comment period will begin. Once the comment period closes the TRAC will review comments and a final vote on the draft list will be taken.