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Ohio DOT Cedes Ground in Its Sneaky Highway Expansion Campaign

The relocation of State Route 32 would have set the stage for an interstate to the sea. Image: ##http://www.urbancincy.com/2011/01/809m-identified-for-long-planned-i-74-extension-through-hamilton-county/##Urban Cincy##
The relocation of State Route 32 would have set the stage for sprawling development in Cincinnati's eastern suburbs. Image: Urban Cincy
The relocation of State Route 32 would have set the stage for an interstate to the sea. Image: ##http://www.urbancincy.com/2011/01/809m-identified-for-long-planned-i-74-extension-through-hamilton-county/##Urban Cincy##

Opponents of a $1.4 billion highway expansion project outside Cincinnati have won some important concessions from Ohio DOT, but the agency's stealth campaign to build an "interstate to the sea" isn't over yet.

Last week, ODOT announced that it will no longer pursue the relocation of State Route 32 through communities on the eastern edge of Cincinnati. "We’re not going to spend any more time or money on that current aspect of the project," ODOT spokesman Brian Cunningham said at a meeting last Thursday.

But ODOT is still looking to widen parts of SR 32, add turn lanes, and install new ramps -- meaning it hasn't abandoned the decades-old plan to create a highway from Cincinnati all the way to the South Carolina coast.

"What they did is that they broke down the upgrading of SR 32 to interstate specs into several small projects that seem innocuous on their own," said Jake Mecklenborg of UrbanCincy. "While cancellation of the highway inside the I-275 loop might prevent 1990s-type suburban development of rural Clermont County, the decades-old effort to connect I-74 in Cincinnati with I-74 in North Carolina is still very much alive."

Mecklenborg noted that ODOT is currently spending more than $400 million to build an "interstate-spec" bypass around the tiny town of Portsmouth, Ohio, about 100 miles east of Cincinnati. And construction of the King Coal Highway (a future segment of I-74) continues in the mountains of West Virginia. Even without routing I-74 directly through Cincinnati, parts of the I-275 loop could be co-signed as I-74 should SR 32 eventually be fully grade-separated, Mecklenborg said.

Still, the agency's decision not to relocate SR 32 is a win for the Ohioans who fought to prevent sprawl, preserve small towns, and avert the destruction of a Native American archeological site.

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