Millikin Road interchange, Ohio 747 widening projects denied funding

Grant application process is very competitive, Butler County engineer says.

Butler County was denied two major federal grants totaling $11 million, one for the first piece of a potential Millikin Road interchange and another for widening Ohio 747 so the projects are on hold.

Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens has been very successful culling grants to fund huge road projects but he was rejected recently on a bid for a $7.5 million grant through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) to continue widening Ohio 747 to five lanes in Liberty Twp.

OKI will officially vote next month on this funding round but the project scoring has been released and Butler County didn’t make the grade for $11 million worth of funding for two Liberty Twp. projects. Based on the scores, money should be approved for the Amtrak train station in Oxford and the engineer’s office traffic signal upgrade.

Wilkens can boast a high success rate, culling 70% grant funding for major road and bridge projects from 2017 through 2021. The projects totaled $76.7 million and were awarded $53.7 million in state and federal grants. Wilkens has $8.2 million for four projects this year.

“We’ve had a great deal of success but everyone thinks if you make application you get them and that ain’t the case,” Wilkens said. “There’re some factors we fight uphill battles on quite religiously... As I say it’s an art and science.”

The $9 million project would have widened Ohio 747 between Millikin and Kyles Station roads to five lanes. Liberty was going to chip in $2 million. The project was to be a continuation of the $7 million widening project Wilkens won a $5.6 million grant for in 2018 for expansion between Millikin and Princeton roads.

Wilkens said these are very competitive grants and the players and projects change every year, so he will try again — the project cannot be done without grant support — hoping this project scores better in the next funding round.

There were 19 projects for roads, mass transit and pedestrian transportation and 16 were awarded based on safety and a wide variety of other point factors. The highest project score was 64 and the lowest making the cut was 42 for a Sycamore Twp. project. The Ohio 747 project only culled a 34.

“We’ll resubmit, we’ll figure out another way to see if we can scrape up some points somewhere else,” Wilkens said. “Hopefully we score a little higher and there’s the same amount of money going out and less applicants. Perseverance, it’s the story of life.”

He said one of the scoring factors for this federal money is whether it will benefit low-to-moderate income residents and “you get up 747 and that doesn’t fit very well.”

Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell said that scoring factor won’t change in the next go-around but they can add data to show safety is a big reason the project should win approval.

“That we can’t fix, but demographics to me shouldn’t matter when it comes to safety,” Farrell said. “Whether you’re highly paid or lowly paid, safety is safety and everybody should be considered regardless of your demographics. That’s not how they look at it, but that’s something we can’t fix and we don’t want to fix it.”

The township also took a hit losing out on their application for $3.5 million for a preliminary phase of the proposed Millikin Road interchange, a new roundabout and widened intersection at Cincinnati Dayton Road and Millikin. The township was going to pick up the rest of the $6.5 million project.

This project is staged as the first phase of a $40 million plan to create a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Millikin Road. The interchange project is in the preliminary stages and hasn’t been fully approved, but the township has cleared some important state and federal milestones. Farrell is undaunted by the apparent rejection of the roundabout funding.

“Bottom line is when it comes to funding an interchange of this size you’re going to be told no more than you’re going to be told yes,” Farrell said. “You have to continue to put your name out there and show them why it is economically feasible and how it will help the region not just the area. That’s how you ultimately get grants and additional funding and we will continue to do that.”

ExploreMillikin Road interchange gets OK from federal government

The township has been working toward this project for years. Financial analyst Andy Brossart has conservatively estimated the interchange project, when fully phased out, is going to be worth $388 million in new investment. There are about 700 undeveloped acres slated for commercial development in the Millikin Road area, and the intersection and Cox Road extension to Ohio 63 would open better access to 1,200 acres — which would hold the equivalent of 12 Liberty Centers.

The latest cost estimate is $30 million to build the diverging diamond interchange — like the new overpass at Union Centre Boulevard further south — at Interstate 75 and possibly $10 million to acquire right-of-way.

The Butler County Transportation Improvement District is directing the project and Executive Director Dan Corey said the loss of the roundabout grant won’t hamper the entire project ,”we’re still advancing the project full speed ahead.” They have already received the full $3.5 million needed to design the monster project.

“With $50 million in OKI funding this year which was a banner year for OKI funding, we thought we’d take a shot at it, the scoring criteria for OKI doesn’t always lend itself to the suburban area but we thought we would try,” Corey said. “Every year it’s a different set of projects with a different set of funding available so we’ll try again if it’s appropriate and continue to look for other funds.”

Butler County Commissioner T.C. Rogers is past-president of OKI and praised Wilkens for his grant culling ability and encouraged him and the TID to try again, “just because you didn’t get it the first time doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it.”

Butler County did score funds for two projects. The city of Oxford will receive $2 million when the OKI executive board votes. Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said the money will build an Amtrak passenger rail platform as a part of the larger Chestnut Fields Multi-Modal Transit Hub, providing residents and visitors a connection to the regional passenger rail system that travels from Chicago to New York.

“We are thrilled at our preliminary scores and look forward to the board vote in October. The Amtrak connection in Oxford has been a long term goal in our community,” Greene said. “We are excited to build out this multi modal facility in Oxford.”

Amtrak has already approved the rail stop and the new platform will be adjacent to the new BCRTA bus terminal and will share a waiting room. This area is a future connection to the Oxford Area Trail and currently houses a long-term park and ride facility.

Wilkens also secured $686,314 to update the controllers in the entire traffic signal system in the county.

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