The bottleneck that I-71 travelers sometimes run into between Columbus and Cleveland should open up in 2015 when the state finally completes the widening of a 25-mile stretch in Delaware and Morrow counties. That's the only two-lane section left on that segment of I-71, and when the last leg is finished in 2015, drivers will have three lanes to use in each direction for that entire section.
The bottleneck that I-71 travelers sometimes run into between Columbus and Cleveland should open up in 2015 when the state finally completes the widening of a 25-mile stretch in Delaware and Morrow counties.
That’s the only two-lane section left on that segment of I-71, and when the last leg is finished in 2015, drivers will have three lanes to use in each direction for that entire section.
Those who head north for the holidays know that section well.
“That always tends to be the parking lot, especially Thanksgiving,” said Kimberly Schwind, spokeswoman for AAA Ohio.
It’s a three-phase project, and work already has begun in northern Morrow County. Another project is scheduled to start on Friday along a 9-mile section from just north of the Rts. 36/37 interchange to the Rt. 61 interchange.
The last section, between Rt. 61 and Rt. 95, will begin later this year and is scheduled to end in 2015. Ohio Department of Transportation officials announced the contract last week.
All told, $144 million will be spent to widen the 25-mile leg. Four years ago, ODOT officials estimated the project would cost $86 million.
At that time, state transportation officials said they didn’t plan to widen that section for two reasons: Traffic studies didn’t support the widening, and there was no money for the project.Local officials were upset, but ODOT eventually switched gears and gave the project the green light.
The section just north of the Rts. 36/37 interchange in Delaware County carries 52,920 vehicles daily, said Nancy Burton, an ODOT spokeswoman. In Morrow County at the Rt. 61 interchange, the daily count is 44,419.
In 1999, the state began a 10-year, $500 million project to improve I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland. The plans did not include widening the 25-mile stretch in Delaware and Morrow counties, calling for patching that section instead.
Like many other central Ohio residents, Robert Lawler, director of transportation for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, has family in Cleveland and knows what Thanksgiving traffic is like.
If you wait to leave after noon on Wednesday, forget it. He said he waits until 11 p.m. that night or leaves on Thanksgiving morning.
But the freeway is important not only for people heading home for Thanksgiving or a weekend visit, Lawler said.
“I-71 is a major artery of commerce,” he said. “Anyone who drives it knows many heavy trucks use it.”
Morrow County Development Director Patricia Davies said she hopes that relieving the bottleneck will open up economic-development opportunities.
Morrow County Commissioner Tom Whiston said he’d like to lure one of the outlet malls proposed for the Rts. 36/37 interchange.
“Why not move to a place with less congestion?” Whiston said.