Completion of the latest interchange project on Interstate 75 in Butler County was next in a line of moves county officials are making to change or improve travel along the highway.
The West Chester Twp. trustees staged a virtual ribbon cutting Tuesday night to celebrate the completion of the $20 million Union Centre Boulevard interchange over Interstate 75. Township Administrator Larry Burks said it is “open and moving traffic as it should.”
Trustee Mark Welch said the “diverging diamond interchange” design will encourage more businesses to locate in the area. Townships subsist largely on property tax dollars, and commercial development helps reduce the financial burden on the residents.
Welch said business development is important because it can keep taxes lower for residents.
The price for the free-flowing traffic design at Union Centre was revised several times, due to the fluctuating construction market.
Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens said the county didn’t have to widen the bridge deck and no right-of-way purchases were required, which saved significant funds. It is one of only three DDI interchanges in the state. The state balked at using the design in such a congested area, but Wilkens said the state eventually agreed after the first DDI was built near Columbus.
“There are some significant benefits and safety is one of the number one issues,” Wilkens said about the DDI. “We look at safety as the number one criteria in almost every project we build. It’s not for the glory, it’s not to be number one, it’s got to provide safety for our citizens and this does.”
He said reducing “conflict points” lowers the accident rate. A typical interchange has 26 conflict areas. and the DDI only has around 14. He said it is also virtually impossible for anyone to drive the wrong way down an exit ramp onto the highway. There is also better sight distance throughout.
“Virtually no driver gets confused, that came out of a study by the Federal Highway Administration recently,” Wilkens said. “And any of you who have driven it to-date, it’s so intuitive, don’t think, just drive.”
The proposed Millikin Road interchange further north has been a top priority for the Liberty Twp. trustees for the same reason. There are about 700 undeveloped acres slated for commercial development in the Millikin Road area, and better access to 1,200 acres would be opened up — which would hold the equivalent of 12 Liberty Centers — when Cox Road is extended to Ohio 63 and if an interchange is built at Millikin Road.
“The only way that we can keep taxes from going up on individuals down the road is to find some commercial resources to tap for tax money,” Trustee Steve Schramm said previously.
The trustees approved a $100,000 feasibility study after the Ohio Department of Transportation gave the green light to the interchange. The study will get the township closer to a price estimate so they can start looking for funding.
Trustee Board President Christine Matacic has said the interchange itself will cost about $40 million, but to create the entire road system, they need could double the price. She now envisions the interchange opening, if everything goes according to plan, in six or seven years.
The township has already had discussions with Butler County about sharing the financial burden, and Matacic said they want to find other partners.
“It’s going to benefit a lot of people in this area,” she said. “So I think we’re working on partnering with others to see what we can do, because we can get more done together than we can separately.”
Schramm said the county commissioners will be a “major player in the Millikin development since they will be the major recipient of the tax dollars that come out of it.”
“The county will be part of that but it all depends how these last several months unfold,” county Commissioner Don Dixon said. “If revenues keep going down there’s less money to fund different projects, that would certainly be one of them. That’s going to take funding from a number of different sources.”
The final major interchange project is slated to start next spring. Many Butler County officials are upset work needs to be done at the Liberty Way and Ohio 129 interchange at all since it was built only a decade ago. But safety concerns have prompted an estimated $22 million fix to the faulty design.
The project involves extending Ohio 129 to a new multi-lane Cox Road roundabout and modifying the Interstate 75 ramps, so there won’t be weaving or crisscrossing traffic.
“If you’re going over to Mason, you’re going to be straight off the end of (Ohio) 129 into Cox,” Wilkens has 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.”