Major upgrade plans unveiled

ST. CLAIRSVILLE A major interchange upgrade is set for 2016.

ODOT officials, Belmont College administration, Ohio representatives and county commissioners turned out to announce the coming improvements.

The upgrades are part of Gov. John Kasich’s Jobs and Transportation Plan, which will invest close to $3 billion in state, local and federal, and Turnpike money into 41 transportation projects across the state. The needed funds erase delays and accelerate most construction projects by more than 10 years.

The project is set to begin in 2016 will take an estimated one construction season. Work will include the widening of US 40, Ohio 331 and Hammond Road, installing a new connector between Ohio 331 and Hammond Road, an improved roadway and interchange design, the Ohio 331 bridge replacement, twin bridge deck replacements on I-70 over US 40, and pedestrian facilities within the project limits.

The project cost is $24.1 million and includes TRAC funding of $1 million for Right of Way Acquisition.

The project will reduce congestion and improve safety and functional deficiencies currently associated with the existing interchange configuration. Access will be improved between I-70 and the local government and public facilities, businesses and residences located within the interchange area.

Congestion will also be reduced and the operation and traffic flow improved through ramp and other geometric upgrades. Access will be improved for Hammond Road, including a new connector road and the realignment of Covered Bridge Road and Airport Road.

Safety will be improved through simple access management and upgrades in the roadway and interchange design. Accommodations for pedestrians, bicyclists and other modes of transportation will be provided within the project limits.

ODOT District 11 Deputy Director Lloyd MacAdam led the announcement and described the project’s value. He said the new route would eliminate unnecessary delays in a major hub of traffic to the college, the sheriff’s office and government buildings.

“Right now there’s major congestion at the ramp. People are backing up,” he said, noting that the closeness of the two intersections has complicated and delayed traffic.

He said the route is about two minutes longer, but should take less time due to the separation of the traffic signal and widening of State Route 331 to three lanes to reduce delays.

“Even though it’s longer to get there, it will be much faster to get to the college,” he said. “You won’t be waiting at the lights at the future condition of this interchange.”

He noted that proposed new roadway along the north side of Fox Shannon Park should open new properties for further economic development.

He said the project will take a proposed full year of construction.

He added that planning and consulting began in 2005 and 2006. The availability of funding has made it possible to proceed.

“This money is now making this project a reality,” he said. “Thanks to Governor Kasich’s creative out-of-the-box thinking and the Ohio legislature’s approval, Ohio is forging ahead with an innovative plan that improves our local transportation infrastructure, and creates jobs right here in Belmont County.”

He added that ODOT and all state transportation agencies are in a crisis of funding caused by rising cost, demanding projects and flat or declining revenue.

He added that they will begin acquiring right of way in the next year and final design will begin after utilities are relocated and moved after 2016. Finalizing the plans should take the next nine to 10 months.

MacAdam added that a traffic plan will be in place to minimize the traveling public. He said more that 40,000 people use I-70 daily.

Thanks went to Belomar Regional Planning, Belmont College, the county CID, and the commissioners for their help in amassing TRAC scoring.

Commissioner Matt Coffland, representing the board, thanked the governor, ODOT, fiscal partners and legislators. He added that the commissioners and the Belmont County Transportation Improvement District are fiscal partners in the work.

“We’re glad to be a partner to make this project move forward,” Coffland said.

“On behalf of Belmont College I’d like Gov. Kasich for having the vision to see how a project like this really does impact higher education for the local economy, and ultimately jobs here in Belmont County,” said RJ Konkoleski, director of development and external affairs at the the college. He added that the project will allow the college to progress to new state-of-the-art facilities.

“I think this is an example of when you finance or assemble funding in one part of the state it can help another part of the state,” said State Rep. Andy Thompson, adding that the leveraging of the turnpike is a self-funding asset that has freed funding for other areas such as Belmont County. “The wisdom of this plan in terms of Gov. Kasich’s vision was to say we can take an existing asset which is very well-funded, free up dollars, those can go elsewhere.”

“Our ability to invest in our infrastructure is critical to help spur the economy,” said Sen. Lou Gentile, member of the Senate Transportation Committee, noting a solid infrastructure is vital for the oil and gas concerns that are moving in the area. “It takes partners in government to make strategic investment to sustain and grow jobs.”

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