“The beauty of it quite honestly is they won’t be inconvenienced that much,” Wilkens said. “The way the project is laid out it works out good for the public. The reality of the game is the only place where we have to, where we’re maintaining traffic is Cox Road when we build the roundabout, the rest of it is pretty much offline.”
The commissioners must still approve a contract, but Wilkens said the project should break ground at the end of May or early June. 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. The construction should take two years.
The first phase will begin with the western part of the Cox Road roundabout, the road will remain open to The Christ Hospital. Bridge and ramp work will also be going on in that area but there won’t be much construction Ohio 129 at this juncture.
When it is all complete Wilkens said drivers will have a much easier time navigating the area.
“Drivers who are headed eastbound towards Mason will come off the end at Cox and make a right to up to Liberty Way,” Wilkens said. “That way they won’t be subject to the weave that Liberty Way at I-75 southbound and (Ohio) 129 is today. That ramp from 129 to Liberty Way will be removed at the end of this project.”
The county is using about $11.6 million in local tax increment financing (TIF) money, the federal government is providing an equal match, plus $1.1 million is coming from the state for ramp paving. TIF funds are collected in a special account from developers to help repay bonds for infrastructure needed in a given area.
It rankles officials here that a change is even necessary, since the interchange is barely a decade old — the $40 million interchange which was paid 100% with local funds — opened in October 2009. When the interchange was first imagined the design being built now was preferred by locals, but rejected by the state because it terminates into a local road.
Wilkens said it became evident shortly after the mega $350 million multi-use Liberty Center development opened and traffic picked up in 2016, that the design was flawed. Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell said the interchange was a catalyst for the major economic project by developer Yaromir Steiner, but preplanning was key.
“It wasn’t really envisioned at the eloquence of Liberty Center, so it ended up being a lot more than it was planned to be,” Farrell said. “Yaromir shortly after opening thanked the trustees for their vision, because without their vision and setting up the exit and zoning to support his kind of development he would have never come.”
So the TIF money invested by the county and Liberty and West Chester townships was considered well spent. Officials say the retrofitted interchange should produce a similar return on investment.
Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko said she does not have any concrete numbers, but with reduced traffic, better access and enhanced safety “it’s always going to make development more easily accessible, which makes the property more valuable, makes it more likely somebody wants to develop, it so it’s kind of like a domino effect.”
Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said “it’s a pretty expensive fix” and the price could potentially go up 15 to 20% as the project progresses with contingencies, but the revamped interchange is a positive.
“It has to be fixed...,” Dixon said. “It will help the businesses that are there and it will help bring some other businesses that aren’t there yet. It will I believe, at the end of the day it helps the whole area, Liberty Center included.”
Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic, who was there when the interchange was first built, has said many times it is frustrating that they had to capitulate to the state back then in order to get the structure constructed. She said “I’m glad to see we’re getting a much safer interchange.”
“When you take a look at the safety and security of our residents and guests that come into our area, this is a very positive thing to get this taken care of,” Matacic said. “Because we’ve had too many near misses with the crisscross that’s been happening for all these years.”