Funding for a plan to widen state Route 750 from Sawmill Parkway to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is all but secured, officials say.

Funding for a plan to widen state Route 750 from Sawmill Parkway to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is all but secured, officials say.

This month, the project was added to Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission's funding list, with a $3.5 million grant set to be awarded to help fund the project pending the conclusion of a 45-day public comment period that started Friday, Nov. 30.

The $10 million project, an effort to reduce heavy traffic congestion along the road, is a joint effort among MORPC, the Ohio Department of Transportation, Liberty Township and the city of Powell.

Liberty Township Administrator Dave Anderson said ODOT would pick up the "lion's share" of the remaining cost, but he wouldn't speculate on how much the local municipalities ultimately will contribute.

"We don't have all those answers yet," Anderson said, "but ODOT is responsible for state routes, so for us to go up there and get $3.5 million in funding to help is extremely beneficial to making this project go forward in the near future."

Planning and engineering should be under way by the second half of 2014, he said, and construction could begin in 2015.

If all goes according to plan, the project will add four or five lanes to state Route 750 to accommodate additional turn lanes and widen the intersection at Sawmill Parkway, where traffic frequently backs up, he said.

Sawmill Parkway also will be widened near the intersection. The left-turn lane headed north will be lengthened, and a second turn lane will be added.

Currently, the intersection has only one left-turn lane onto Sawmill Parkway northbound.

The plan also includes a walking path along state Route 750. The roadway currently does not accommodate pedestrians.

Officials said heavy traffic discourages visitors to the zoo, a major attraction that draws about 2.3 million visitors annually.

Liberty Township officials agreed in June to spearhead efforts to obtain funding for the project. The initial grant proposal asked MORPC for significantly more funding -- about $8 million. It was denied, but a smaller request was accepted.

In response, ODOT is looking to reduce the overall cost of the project by lowering the speed limit on that stretch of Sawmill Parkway from 50 mph to 45 mph.

That will reduce the amount of right of way that must be obtained along the roadway to comply with state regulations before construction can proceed.

For now, MORPC is accepting comments from anyone who still wishes to make the case for a more-deserving project.

"We have our ear toward the possibility of other projects that are not currently funded that people may think are more important," said MORPC Transportation Department Assistant Director Nick Gill. "There's only so much money to go around."