I-70 project on the table

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The county garage hosted a meeting Tuesday to finalize the alignment of the mall road connector project and to field questions.

Steve Bergman, project manager with HDR Engineering, gave an overview of the connector road project. Preliminary approval to move forward for further investigation was secured from ODOT and the Federal Highway Department. He reported meeting with local developers interesting in maximizing development potential, particularly on the east side.

Another factor was the need to be cognizant of the environmental concerns in the area, as mandated when using federal funds. Bergman noted wetlands were found and are being taken into account when establishing the horizontal alignment.

Jake Stremmel, design manager with HDR Engineering, said the north/south alignment begins at Route 40, passes through existing development on I-70, to the new development on the west side of the mall. They will tie into Ring Road and Mall Road.

The route will be classified as an urban collector, with all the attendant criteria. It will consist of three 12-foot lanes. A sidewalk is planned for one side.

Stremmel said they are working with developers on the north and south of the crossing over I-70 to tie into their plans for development.

Bergman noted that the work consists of three projects: a private development to the north, private development on the back side of the mall, and the connector from Route 40 to Mall Road.

The physical constraints are set by the vertical clearance necessary on I-70. It is necessary to match the grades with the development.

“This is really a project that is focused on improving capacity and safety, as well as opening up development opportunities in the area,” he said.

Anthony Cafaro Jr., Cafaro Company, confirmed that his company’s section is under construction, with stoning and asphalt work ongoing. He discussed specifics and needs for aligning the segments. Bergman said there will likely be more frequent meetings as construction continues.

“We obviously are encouraging additional development. We see any additional development that occurs north to be positive for the county and the overall interchange,” he said. Talk turned to specifics in design.

ODOT Representative Roxanne Kane said the original planned called for the ODOT project to extend from Route 40 to Mall Road. The TID then agreed to tackle the first segment, a commitment of about $2 million from the county commissioners.

“It’s going to accomplish the same thing we intended. It’s going to be one continuous project, but different folks are doing different parts,” said Bergman, who noted that some segments of the project were moving more quickly than others. “The ODOT project is really been scaled back to make the connections between the TID project, private development, but we’re still accomplishing the same goal of connecting 40 all the way to Mall Road.”

He added that this alleviates some issues on Mall Road at the interchange.

Commissioner Matt Coffland said that the project was initially conceived at a cost of $50 million, but when funding difficulties became apparent it was scaled down to realistic terms. This also involved altering the designs.

Bergman called the project a partnership between a wide range of developers. He complimented ODOT for seeking funding from the Federal Highway Administration.

Coffland said about four or five property owners will be impacted by the project. This includes the Stewart family business and residential property. Stewart’s representative stated that there remained unanswered questions and concerns, noting that while Stewart does not oppose the roadway, there is a long history of questions about who is obligated to perform the required improvements. The Stewarts are also concerned that public dollars are not spent where they are not needed, as well as ensuring access points to the property.

They also brought up a traffic study from April 2013 questioning the necessity of the connector road.

Bergman said the connector road project was necessary because of deficiencies in the Mall Road interchange area, such as safety problems and congestion issues. Another interchange on I-70 was not warranted for any reason and a connector road proved the best alternative according to their models. He said a connection from 40 to Mall Road must be completed to meet the purpose and need the project and be eligible for federal funding.

The Stewarts’ representative is still awaiting a look at the study’s alleviation conclusions. She added that the Stewarts’ goal is not to find fault with the project, but to settle related questions. Bergman said study information will be provided.

Cafaro added that their new development in Ohio Valley Place will likely have a hotel constructed within 18 months and open for business prior to the work beginning.

“We are seeing it a catalyst to assist development in the north,” he said, adding he expects traffic and development to benefit all properties in the area.

The Stewarts note that the current plans seem more detrimental than advantageous to their property.

Coffland addressed the changes to the planning during the years. He said effort has been ongoing to find an access point to benefit the Stewarts’ property.

Kane noted the concern that the TID was no longer committed to moving forward and having their segment completed in time for ODOT to begin their section, as was previously agreed.

Kane and TID member and St Clairsville Service Director Denis Bigler noted that the city of St. Clairsville’s $950,000 Track award through ODOT as well as earmarked funds used to begin the studies.

“The TID is ready to go,” said Bilger. “It’s construction plans are finished. We’re ready to start the right of way process, but a key funding component that we are counting on is in currently in limbo, that’s what’s delaying us in moving forward. That’s our status and that’s what we’re trying to work through at this point.”

In addition, strong local support and funding for the project is crucial in obtaining Track funding. Kane said construction could be awarded by November of 2016, assuming funds are available at the time. They will know by August of next year.

Ownership and maintenance of the road segments could be divided between city and county.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com