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$200M construction frustrates city, students

The $200 million construction on Interstate 670 and Interstate 71, which started shortly after classes began, is not going to be over anytime soon, and students aren’t happy about it.

The construction on I-670 and I-71 are part of a larger project focused on changes to the I-70 and I-71 corridor. Officials said this phase is expected to be completed in mid-2014.

The aim of this phase of the project is to increase safety and fix problems that were created when the highway was constructed in the 1960s.

“This new interchange will eliminate a lot of the weaves that the traveling public now has to negotiate to get through the interchange,” said John Householder, Kokosing project manager. “This will straighten out those lanes to eliminate a lot of that weaving and in the weave areas is where a lot of the accidents are. This should increase flow and reduce accidents.”

Nancy Burton, public communications manager for Ohio Department Of Transportation said the project is needed.

“It’s been planned for almost a decade, it’s long overdue really,” she said.

The state partnered with Central Ohio family-owned construction company Kokosing for the project, and this decision saved the state about $41 million, Burton said.

“We had estimated $241 million for this phase, and Kokosing proposed $200 million. The combination of price point and construction and design were all on point,” Burton said. “That is obviously a huge savings to the state and the taxpayers.”

Columbus citizens have been making their opinions heard at the 300 public meetings ODOT has held since the project was proposed.

“For the most part, people do believe we are healing the scar that was left in the ’60s when this highway blazed a trail and literally separated east side from downtown,” Burton said.

Students at Ohio State have their own complaints about the construction.

“It’s miserable. It takes me an hour to get somewhere that used to take me five minutes,” said Chelsey Lupher, a fourth-year in psychology.

Both Burton and Householder say they understand that Columbus is going to continue to host events, including Buckeye football and basketball games, but construction should not affect anyone’s commute greatly.

“670 and 71 are not closed. We are required to maintain traffic,” Burton said. “I don’t believe there’s a detour that’s more than 3 miles. If there’s a ramp closed and that was a popular way to go, there’s another ramp that’s either been created or is open to let people get where they need to go.”

Householder said there will be a reduced number of lanes used, but the highway will not be closed.

“We will maintain two lanes on northbound 71, two lanes on southbound 71 and two lanes on 670 eastbound the entire duration of the job,” Householder said.

There are around 14 ramp and exit closures listed on the project’s website for this phase. This list includes the 4th Street exit from 670 east, the 3rd Street/High Street exit from 670 west, the Cleveland Avenue exit from 71 south, and the 670 west exit on 71 north.

Even with winter weather setting in, construction will not stop, but will be redirected into more demolition and excavation and less building.

“We typically have winter shut-downs, and central Ohio is not used to this, and we have heard from the public that this is a sore spot. If we close a lane or a ramp, they’re working; we’re not just leaving and coming back in April,” Burton said.

This is the largest project for ODOT in central Ohio at the moment, and in the top five largest projects Kokosing has ever undertaken. ODOT has around a dozen employees working full-time on the project, and Kokosing has between 25-35 people working on site, with almost 100 more working behind the scenes in design and other areas.

“The team of engineers on this project has centuries of professional and academic experience. This is not dial-a-contractor project by any stretch of the imagination,” Burton said.

With the speed limit reduced to 45 mph and multiple lane restrictions and ramp closures, the construction still creates unpleasant driving for students and faculty despite the expertise and planning that has gone into the project.

“670 is a nightmare. It’s caused several delays in my normal commute,” said Ben Skinner, fourth-year in consumer and family financial services. “I’ve seen a lot more wrecks on 670 (since construction).”

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