Proposed Millikin Road interchange in I-75 could cost $72 million

The Liberty Twp. trustees learned this week the top priority Millikin Road interchange at Interstate 75 will cost around $72 million, and now they have to figure out how to pay for it.

The trustees met this week with Butler County officials, the Butler County Transportation Improvement District (TID) and others to get a glimpse of what the next steps in the long-awaited project will be. The cost for a full interchange and improvements to surrounding roadways would cost about $72 million. Roadway system improvements alone would cost $64 million.

“If you do not build the interchange you have more construction and wider roads that you need than if you build the interchange,” Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Christine Matacic said. “There would be more right-of-way acquisition, there would be a lot more involved. But if you build the interchange, certain of those improvements don’t have to be as drastic.”

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 township got the nod from the Ohio Department of Transportation in January that the interchange is a priority project and work could proceed. Now they need the federal government’s approval because it is their highway.

As part of the federal government submission they must identify a funding stack.

“The money that will be generated from this exit both short and long term will benefit the state, the county and the township, how much it’s going to benefit each individual entity is what we’re working through now,” Trustee Tom Farrell said. “Everybody’s got to decide how much they are willing to invest in their future.”

All three county commissioners told the Journal-News they support the project but none would say how much they are willing pay.

“It does have some benefit for the county,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Is the county going to go into debt for $100 million to build it? That’s not going to happen. Now Liberty Twp., it’s their project, so they’re going to be carrying most of the debt. If they can finance it we can help them a little.”

The preliminary financing plan calls for using some local sources early on.

“We have said as Millikin develops things will start shifting more to Liberty’s pile,” Matacic said.

Trustee Steve Schramm said everything hinges on federal approval.

“I think its premature to do anything until we get the next litmus test, which is the federal government weighing in,” Schramm said. “Everything we have been led to believe so far based on what they have told us is we’re in a good place right now. When it comes to cost sharing and how we start dialing for dollars, it’s a little too early.”

While there are 761 vacant acres ripe for development, the team is basing its numbers on a conservative 328-acre buildout, according to Liberty Twp. Economic Development Director Caroline McKinney.

“We’re not basing these numbers on a full build-out and assuming all office and just absolutely shooting for the moon,” McKinney said. “We all need to be very realistic about how it’s going to develop. Absolutely we’re going to try to get office and all of the uses we envision, but we have to go in with the understanding, my goodness we’re in the middle of a pandemic, who knows what the market is going to be like in five years as this starts to come online.”

TID Director Dan Corey said they are in the process of completing the Alternative Evaluation Report for federal officials. It identifies what the road network needs to look like after 40 years of development, with just road improvements, an interchange and road improvements and no improvements.

“With federal funds you always have to do a no-build alternative,” Corey said. “So we’re looking at three alternatives and that study should conclude the end of this year and then we’ll begin public involvement."

If everything goes according to plan construction could begin in 2025.

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