The Butler County commissioners have approved another $1 million for engineering and design for the $30 million fix of the Liberty Way and Interstate 75 interchange.
The total engineering bill for the interchange stands at $2 million, and County Engineer Greg Wilkens said that should be it, because this final phase is the actual construction design.
Part of the project involves extending Ohio 129 to a new Cox Road roundabout and modifying the Interstate 75 ramps, so there won’t be crisscrossing traffic.
“If you’re going over to Mason, you’re going to be straight off the end of (Ohio) 129 into Cox,” Wilkens said. “That’s going to be a smoother transition, you won’t get the weave off of 75 coming in there, the 75 traffic will be separated, that’s what’s going to make this work.”
Some have worried it might be dangerous to have people driving 65 mph east on 129 into a roundabout at Cox Road.
“We understand we’ve got to slow them down,” Wilkens said. “But most people coming off that way are going to be locals who well recognize it. Most of the travelers will be I-75.”
The county and Liberty and West Chester townships financed the original $40 million-plus project a decade ago with tax increment funding (TIF) money, and the county will do the same now. Wilkens has secured almost $12 million in grants to pay for almost half the project, and the commissioners will match that using TIF money, so Wilkens still needs to find about $6 million. The federal funds aren’t coming until 2021.
The “fix” design is the design local officials wanted when it was built, they said, but Ohio Department of Transportation officials wouldn’t approve those plans.
The Liberty Way interchange facilitated the construction of mega, mixed use $350 million Liberty Center and all the other new commercial building that has gone on in that area. Phil Morrical, chair of the Liberty Community Authority that was established to oversee the taxpayer-backed $37 million investment in infrastructure for the center, said he is a little concerned about the new design as well.
“I’m not really crazy about the design,” he said. “I think it’s going to take traffic away from the mall to be honest. People from Hamilton have to go all the way to Cox Road and come back over, they’re going to say, ‘Oh (heck) let’s just keep going.’”
He said he would like to see better signage on Ohio 129 directing people to exit at Cincinnati Dayton Road to get to the mall.
Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell said he doesn’t believe the interchange revision will adversely impact Liberty Center, because regional drivers will still have direct Interstate 75 access to Liberty Center and the locals coming from the west know the back roads.
Plus, long-range Liberty Center plans include an access road near Skyline Chili on Cincinnati Dayton Road to the mall.
“Safety is our number one concern and the new interchange will be much safer, because there will not be as much traffic intertwining as it does today,” Farrell said. “And the 75 exit into Liberty Center, which has about 156,000 travelers a day, will still have direct access as they do now, in fact it will be easier for them to access because they don’t have to cross traffic.”
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