Pandemic-induced supply chain issues continue to plague the construction industry and have delayed the start of the final phase of the massive Liberty Way interchange at Interstate 75 remodel by a couple weeks.
The Butler County commissioners approved a $3.1 million contract with Barrett Paving Materials for the work at Cox Road last week. This is the last leg of the $32 million project to fix what officials here have considered a flawed design — ordered by the federal and state governments — on the $43 million interchange that opened in 2009.
The project entails installing dual left turn lanes in both directions from Liberty Way to Cox Road; a southbound right turn lane from Cox Road to Liberty Way and the northbound on-ramp to I-75. Traffic will be maintained throughout the months-long project.
Construction was slated to begin Monday, but Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens said the start date is now around June 12 or possibly a week later.
“The supply chain issue is always a problem, particularly when we’re dealing with signals anymore,” Wilkens said. “It’s a routine headache in meeting schedules.”
Barrett won the project over two other bidders for the project that is now expected to be complete by the end of the year, the highest price came in at $3.3 million. The estimate was just a tad over $3 million.
The interchange fix was essentially completed late last year and involved extending Ohio 129 to the new Cox Road roundabout and modifying the Interstate 75 ramps, so there isn’t crisscrossing traffic. There have been other improvements around the interchange like this last phase. The county received $11.6 million from the federal government and the rest was paid for with tax increment financing (TIF) money.
It rankles officials here that a change was even necessary, since the interchange — which was paid 100% with local funds — isn’t that old. Wilkens said the federal government has relaxed its rules a bit, which allowed them to install the design they wanted from the start. The rules at the time it was built didn’t allow tying a highway into a local road.
“They’ve adopted that and understand look, given the criteria we can’t afford this perfection anymore,” Wilkens said. “What we can afford is to make these projects make the traffic flow better and more safely.”
Wilkens has 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 Steve Schramm said he is bracing himself for complaints about traffic snarls because of the construction, but at least they can close this chapter, “that should fix what was screwed up many, many years ago,”.
“I know Greg is very relieved to finally get what he had wanted and envisioned many years ago,” Schramm said. “It’s a shame we spent probably $20 million more than we needed to, to get what we wanted to get to begin with. But that’s our government at work.”
Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell said he is happy the final phase is starting.
“It’s much, much safer without having that merging traffic,” he said. “From what we’ve seen first hand is the flow is significantly better. They continue to tweak and finish and adjust the lights to make sure traffic is moving.
“We’re very, very pleased with the way traffic is moving in and out of Liberty,” Farrell said.
Another new I-75 interchange is planned a couple miles north at Millikin Road. The Butler County Transportation Improvement District is directing the project and Executive Director Dan Corey said they are working on the final design for the diverging diamond interchange — such as the overpass at Union Centre Boulevard further south — and he is applying for $14 million from the state Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) to pay for right-of-way.
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 growth in the Millikin Road area. The interchange and a Cox Road extension to Ohio 63 would open better access to 1,200 acres — which would hold the equivalent of 12 Liberty Centers.
This is an estimated $50 million “development driven” endeavor, but they don’t yet have an identified development to support the cost of the project.
“We are asking the state to fund the right-of-way without the developer in place,” Corey said. “We are asking the state to bring dollars with the understanding that we’ll create job centers around the interchange.”
Schramm said: “we’re trying to steer Millikin to more industrial and job growth generation“ than the Liberty Center retail and housing model. He said he is confident they will be able to raise the money through a variety of sources, “I’m actually more optimistic on the financial side than I’ve been in quite a while.”
He said they are close to an agreement with the county commissioners on their contribution to the interchange. Commissioner Don Dixon said “it’s coming down to the final steps, we’re making progress and going in the right direction.”
Schramm also went to Columbus last week and spoke with legislative leaders about additional funding, Lawmakers are still hammering out the new budget but Schramm said there is “a fairly robust chunk of dollars” they could tap for the project.
They have already received the full $3.5 million needed to design the monster project, $2.5 million is from the township and the TID and the rest is from the state.
Farrell said they are working with the landowners in the area now to garner buy-in for the project because “our vision is no good if the people that own the land don’t share it as well.”
“We’re excited about Millikin and its future,” Farrell said. “Millikin is not just luxury it’s a necessity for the sustainability of Liberty for the next generation. We have to do it right the first time.”