I-70 corridor project needs completed

In December of 2007, the Belmont County Commission, consisting of Commissioners Probst, Longshaw and myself, created the Belmont County Transportation District(TID). It was a proactive approach on our part to help foster and further economic development in Belmont County. The county, in conjunction with the City of St. Clairsville and the Richland Township Trustees, joined forces to create the TID. The Board’s sole intent was to increase collaboration with local partner jurisdictions, along with other county, regional, state and federal agencies to implement a regional approach to transportation improvements in Belmont County. Under Ohio law, a TID is an entity to bring local government units together as one to share powers, create revenues to fund and build transportation projects and associated facilities.

The TID was initially created to address the I-70 strategic corridor in Richland Township and the City of St. Clairsville. We quickly recognized that even in 2008, we would need to prepare for future traffic growth in this area. While that issue remains front and center today, it is important to note that the TID has countywide jurisdiction and is available for any project our 16 cities/villages and 16 townships may have in Belmont County. As all of us know, the I-70 corridor remains a vital economic development link to the rest of the country and it was our intent to take advantage of every statutory opportunity under the law to move the county forward. Contrary to various published reports, while the county’s economic situation was not as strong then as it may be know, it was not in desperate straits to have for us to have taken this step to create the TID. At the time of its creation, all three of us were totally committed to improving traffic flow in this designated area. Our sole goal was to use the TID to help the county secured funding from ODOT(which it did) and the federal government. Our intent, and I firmly believe it is the sole issue today that the current board needs to address, was to explore every avenue to improve traffic flow along US Route 40 and I-70 in relation to the Ohio Valley Mall and the Ohio Valley Plaza.

At the time we created the TID, we did not have the economic development projects such as Kettler’s Ridge along Route 40, the proposed St. Clair Commons project, and the major improvements and plans made and proposed by the Cafaro Company at the mall. At the time we were first addressing our need to plan for future traffic growth, our goal was to secure a federal earmark to help fund this project. We were able to secure a $6.9 million federal fund earmark thanks to the help of former Congressman Bob Ney and others. That earmark remains now with the City of St. Clairsville and it is good to see that our friends at ODOT have embraced this proposed project that the TID board has worked on since 2008. This project is now even more vital to the entire county with the retail, commercial and health care opportunities being promulgated by private development. What I wanted to see happen with the TID’s creation has in fact now happened and it is time for the Belmont County Commission to work together, as a cohesive and unified board, to figure out a way to help fund its share of committed funds. As I have seen in previous media releases and stories, the county committed funds to this project in June yet it remains at a stalemate as of this date. The City of St. Clairsville and TID board has relied upon the county’s alleged funding commitment so if there is something that has changed, I encourage the board to have open, honest and transparent communications with the TID, the city and the township to insure this project comes to fruition.

Belmont County is experiencing some good economic times but in no way is it experiencing boom times. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the county to continue to work with all government entities to help continue its efforts in setting the table for job creation, something that is effectuated by the private not public sector. The county and region will continue to grow in the next 5-15 years, not only in job opportunities but in many other ways. Therefore, the county must take the lead and create every economic development opportunity to help foster private sector growth, however, not without research, dialogue and more to insure the county is spending its dollars to benefit all of Belmont County citizens. I again hope that the Belmont County Commission will put perceived political or personal differences aside and make an informed, well-thought out decision on this vital transportation project that will benefit all Belmont County residents and beyond.