Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon talks about the county's fiscal health

Local officials upset Liberty Way interchange already needs $30M in changes

The Butler County engineer has secured almost $12 million in federal funds, and the commissioners have committed to a 50 percent match. The rest of the estimated $30 million cost is undetermined.

It rankles officials here that a change is even necessary, since the interchange at Ohio 129 and Interstate 75 is not even a decade old — it opened in October 2009 — but drivers have reported difficulties merging from Cincinnati Dayton Road to I-75 going east.

County Engineer Greg Wilkens said 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.

RELATED: Who should pay for Liberty Way, I-75 traffic fixes

“If you’re going over to Mason, you’re going to be straight off the end of (Ohio) 129 into Cox,” he 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.”

The county already spent almost $1 million several years ago to hire a consultant to come up with the change, and Wilkens said the estimate is about $30 million.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic was around when the interchange was first built and said the proposed new configuration was the county’s preference at that time. The Ohio Department of Transportation would not approve the design, she said.

“The original plans that we wanted are what they are recommending that they modify it to today,” she said, adding there was “a lot of strain” between local and ODOT officials.

“We went through it, we got Liberty Way interchange in, we paid for it 100 percent locally,” she said. “I’ve gone on the record with ODOT saying it’s time for you guys to step up a little bit more. Because of all these antics, it’s costing us more in the long run to do this the right way.”

The county and Liberty and West Chester townships financed the $40 million-plus project with tax increment funding (TIF) money, and the county will do the same now. The county refinanced the bonds in 2016 and expected to save $10 million.

The commissioners will use money from the same special taxing district to match the $11.5 million federal grant but that funding source expires in 2032. That particular county TIF generates about $12 million annually, but County Administrator Judy Boyko said it is not there just to finance Liberty Way. Wilkens continues to seek additional outside funding.

“It is important to note, there is debt already obligated to the University Pointe TIF,” she said. “Namely the initial construction of the Liberty interchange and the required ancillary roadway network, among other projects.”

Previously, county officials said they expected Liberty Twp. officials to use funds from a TIF overlay in that area to help pay debt service on bonds that will be issued for the new Liberty Way project after the county TIF expires.

Liberty Twp. Board President Steve Schramm said officials haven’t had any formal talks on the matter, given the federal funding doesn’t arrive until 2021, but he too is frustrated they need to spend more money to fix a problem that could have been avoided.

MORE: Major interchange project tops Liberty Twp. priorities for 2019

He and the other trustees have expressed a desire to have money put into a new interchange at Millikin Road before fixing Liberty Way. They believe adding another I-75 access will open up about 1,200 acres for development. Wilkens said that project is still under ODOT review.

“We wanted this thing to be tackled earlier and/or not at all,” Schramm said. “I was trying to convince them to take the money and put it into the Millikin interchange, that will probably eliminate the need for some of the changes they are making at Liberty but they felt like they were way too far down the pike to change. I certainly guess we could play ball but it all boils down to how much.”

Boyko last week sent a letter of support on behalf of the commissioners to Butler County Tranporation Improvement District Director Dave Spinney so he can apply for a $250,000 grant to purchase right-of-way for Liberty Way.

Commissioner Don Dixon said Millikin is a project for “down the road.”

“We’re committed to the Liberty interchange, Liberty Twp. is committed to the Liberty interchange with millions of dollars too,” he said. “They’ve got a TIF on top of a TIF over there, so it’s to all our advantage to keep our priorities straight, and our priority right now is making certain that we live up to our commitment to the development and the projects out there.”

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