OSUM campus road project moving ahead

News Release Date: 

Public meeting on Ohio 95 project Jan. 31

Written by John Jarvis of The Marion Star
and published Thursday, January 19, 2012

MARION - Two road projects years in the making on the city's east side have reached milestones.

One, which would construct a road across the west side of The Ohio State University at Marion campus from Ohio 529 to Ohio 95, Marion County Engineer Brad Irons said, "is a lot closer than we've ever been. We're working on a memorandum of understanding with OSUM. ... It isn't signed yet, but we're very close to signing it."

The other, an Ohio Department of Transportation effort to improve traffic safety and efficiency on Ohio 95, will be the subject of a public meeting on Jan. 31. ODOT held its first public hearing on its preliminary plans in 2003, but revamped the project after hearing concerns from local businesses and residents about the construction of a 3-foot-wide median and road widening that one business owner said would close his doors.

Three years ago, ODOT informed local officials it would not fund a relocation of Ohio 529, which lies to the south of the Ohio State Marion and Marion Technical College campus, determining traffic flow, crashes and other factors did not warrant it.

Disagreeing with that evaluation, Irons said his office plans to build a road linking the Ohio 529 intersection to University Drive at Ohio 95; University Drive connects to Ohio 309 in front of Harding High School.

"It'll be a partnership with ODOT because they're going to be doing some work down on 529," he said.

Cost of the project will be $1.5 million to $2 million, he estimated, and will include straightening a curve near the Ohio 529 intersection, as well. He said the county will "be tapping all the funding sources, anything and everything we can get ahold of."

Marion County Regional Planning Director Ken Lengieza said the county has the opportunity to apply for $500,000 in Ohio Public Works Administration funding, "so you're still short," but agrees with Irons' determination "to do the right thing out there."

The new county road would reduce traffic on Ohio 95 and traffic that currently uses neighboring subdivisions as shortcuts.

"The biggest thing, though, ... by far as far as I'm concerned there's nothing even close to it is for the safety of Ohio State and Marion Technical campus," Lengieza said. "There's only one real entrance/exit now to that campus, and so if there's some big accident or something at 95 at the entrance of the campus right now, that place is going to be all tied up. It's going to affect emergency response to the campus."

Greg Rose, Ohio State-Marion dean and director, said the county prosecutor is reviewing the memorandum's language. Once approved by him, it will be returned to the local campus, then sent to Ohio State's main campus in Columbus for signing.

"We're very close," Rose said, adding he and Irons were comfortable with the language of the memorandum. He said Ohio State-Marion's primary concern is for the safety of students, staff and visitors to the campus, making sure traffic controls "are where they need to be" and similar aspects. Another concern was the aesthetic impact of the road, incorporation of sidewalks and landscaping, possibly including mounds to partially shield the campus from the new road, "because the campus is a pretty important green space, not just for us, but for the community."

Irons estimated the campus road, which has been in local plans for more than 40 years, will be built in 2014.

Ohio 95 project

ODOT's Ohio 95 project no longer will include the median and will have University Drive as its westernmost point and Blevins Boulevard just east of Meijer Inc. as its eastern boundary.

Estimated cost of the Ohio 95 work is $1.65 million, Nancy Burton, ODOT spokeswoman, said. Projected date for starting construction is June 2013.

Lengieza said as revised, the Ohio 95 plan appears to be an improvement on the original project.

"It looks like lane changes and pavements are good," he said, adding the plan incorporates longer turn lanes, removes the median that had been planned, makes it "easier to get into some stores," improves the Pole Lane intersection, and the "traffic lights look good."

His disappointment: "There's still nothing there as far as bike lanes or for pedestrians." And work that was to extend to about Merchant Avenue within the city limits has been dropped from the new plan.

Theresa Lubke, Marion YMCA executive director and a member of Pioneering Healthy Communities Marion, said she hadn't seen the latest Ohio 95 plan, but shared the group's view on the importance of including bike lanes and walkways.

"We're committed to advocating when we're redoing streets that we do it right, and right means a complete street. Roads that work well for cars ... public transportation, bicyclists and pedestrians, and that can be designed in a number of different ways."

Pioneering Healthy Communities members will attend the public hearing, which will be at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at Tri-Rivers Career Center, 2222 Marion-Mount Gilead Road (Ohio 95).

"It's important for us and should be important to everyone in Marion for a variety of reasons, health, transportation, aesthetics," she said. "... We hope the people of Marion will join us and be there and advocate that that needs to be a complete street."

Lengieza said ODOT has made it a practice in communications statewide to emphasize that road projects should be complete road projects, including bike lanes and sidewalks.

Of the lack of bike lanes and walkways, Burton said the updated proposal has shoulders throughout that are appropriate for bike accommodations. She encouraged everyone concerned to attend the public meeting to view the updated exhibits and comment on proposed changes.

A $700,000 enhancement grant plus a $300,000 match from Legacy Crossing tax increment financing is available for sidewalks in conjunction with the Ohio 95 improvements, Lengieza said, but cited three reasons use of the grant on that project would be unwise. The cost estimates for the enhancements are six years old "and to do a project based on estimates that are six years old would be crazy."

Also, ODOT rules would increase the cost of the project, and the county is responsible for any cost overruns. "It's like going to the store and I tell you to stay in a budget, but I'm going to tell you what to buy. And third, the county doesn't have the money for overruns."

He said he and Irons plan to ask ODOT to transfer the enhancement grant from the Ohio 95 project to the campus road project to help cover costs on sidewalks, landscaping, lights and similar features.

"Then we'd have several things in our favor," he said. "Brad's staff would be doing the estimates. And they do a good job. They'd be current estimates. ... And Ohio State/Marion Technical College would have control over what's put in there, so we'd be able to stay within the budget. Fresh estimates, local control, it's hard to beat."

Irons said construction of University Drive has proven to be worthwhile, adding 8,000 to 9,000 vehicles use it each day. It is the second most-used Marion County road after Barks Road, he said.