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

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.

  • SFnative74

    Anything to prevent the routing of freeways through cities and towns should be applauded. Contrary to routing intercity freeways around cities as most other countries do, too many times in the US the interstate was routed into a city, destroying neighborhoods and splitting them into separated pieces.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    $400 Million for One obscure bypass ?

    that would fund 400 miles of protected bikes lanes and traffic calming measures – translation: for the cost of one bypass, Cincinnati could have a fully integrated multi-modal transportation network.

  • BillCollins45227

    Bill Collins Yes, there is no doubt that many civic boosters in southeast Ohio, far eastern Kentucky, western West Virgina (along the Tug River) and in my home state of North Carolina will continue to argue for I-73 to be built and I-74 to be extended from Cincinnati to Wilmington, North Carolina.

    However, that does not take away from the victory of people in Newtown, Mariemont and Madisonville, along with the Sierra Club to protect our communities from the “Sprawl Highway” (the proposed relocation of Route 32 which we have just stopped).

    Yes, the proponents of extending I-74 through Hamilton County (here in Cincinnati where I live) and out the Appalachian Highway will still lobby for the tens of billions of dollars need to build out these proposed interstates.

    But, now, with the relocation of Route 32 effectively stopped for the foreseeable future, the I-74 advocates for extending I-74 will likely argue to run I-74 around Cincinnati’s I-275 ring road to the “Eastgate” east-suburban area, where that proposed I-74 freeway could then head east along the Appalachian Highway from the upgraded I-275/Route 32 interchange that is under construction now. [This would be similar to the configuration of I-74 around Indianapolis, there I-74 does *not* ram through the City, but instead passes around Indy on the I-465 ring road, clockwise from 4 o’clock to 9 o’clock.

    I agree with Jake Mecklenborg, as he stated in his article, that extending I-74 east of Cincinnati is a waste of money — especially considering the massive freeway upgrading of US 35 that will soon be completed all the way from Washington Courthouse, Ohio at I-71 to the Charleston, West Virginia metro area. With the completion of the US 35 project, any “need” for I-74 to be extended east of Cincinnati is just a needless duplication of government highway spending.

    But, in the meantime, we know that here on the East Side of the City of Cincinnati and in the eastern suburbs we have stopped the, in effect, “paving over,” of the Little Miami Valley that would have happened if Route 32 had been relocated. This is a very special victory over the highway lobby — one that goes back 50 years when anglers and hunters who enjoyed the pristine outdoor beauty of the Little Miami valley started to organize against this highway idea — and we should not lose sight of both their vision and our victory.

  • It should be noted that the original plans were to route the Interstates around cities, but civic leaders of the day lobbied to get them brought right into the heart.

  • Nightowl2548

    US 35 upgraded to interstate standards from Dayton OH to Charleston WV is all that is needed to solve the issue of terrible non direct interstate access from the Carolinas to the Illinois Great Lakes Region. I took this route in 2013, and although not yet all freeway saved a vast amount of time. No need to duplicate the shortcut through Cincinnati with all the traffic that entails when 35 is 90% built already.

  • tempo150101

    IF more north/south freeway capacity is needed through West Virginia, the I-77/West Virginia Turnpike could always be widened to six lanes from Charleston south to Wytheville, Virginia.

    There’s no “if” about it if you’ve ever been stuck in one of the frequent traffic jams on I-77 north.

  • TempoNick

    I was going to say. I-77, I-20 and I-95 are all very congested. The I-73 (from Columbus) and I-74 proposals should be resurrected but I agree that you don’t have to take it through Eastern Hamilton County.

  • TempoNick

    Not really obscure. It is intended to upgrade US 23 to Interstate standards.

  • Vooch

    lol

  • TempoNick

    U.S. 23 is a major north-south route. Technically, it goes all the way into Atlanta, but between Michigan and West Virginia, it is a well-traveled route. If it wasn’t a busy stretch of road, there wouldn’t be truck stops along it.

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