Stimulus Funds for Ohio Highway Projects Could Triple Next Year

In Franklin County this year, ODOT awarded about $47.8 million in construction work. For 2010, the number will be more than $182.5 million -- and it could hit $352.5 million if the Dowtown I-70/71 project is approved.

The dust is settling on what was a particularly aggravating road-construction season for some motorists.

"Thanksgiving is kind of the traditional end," said Jon Blackwood, program coordinator for Paving the Way, a federally funded operation to keep motorists advised of central Ohio road projects. "The pavement plants shut down. It certainly is a transition point in the year."

But federal stimulus money is expected to rain down on projects next year, causing the number of orange-barrel sightings to increase significantly in spring.

In Franklin County this year, the Ohio Department of Transportation awarded about $47.8 million in construction work. For 2010, the number will more than triple to $182.5 million -- and it could hit $352.5 million if $170 million in stimulus funding is approved to begin work on the Downtown I-70/71 project, said Brian Hedge, spokesman for the ODOT district in charge of central Ohio.

"Obviously there's some growth with stimulus projects, but it's just different projects as well," Hedge said.

The department is proceeding with design work on the Downtown project -- which will eliminate traffic jams by eliminating most exit and entrance ramps, replacing them with frontage roads that will funnel traffic on and off the freeways -- as if initial stimulus funding would be approved in early 2010, he said.

Other central Ohio counties should expect more roadwork next year as well.

"We're seeing stimulus projects throughout the state," Hedge said.

Columbus received $3 million in federal stimulus cash for resurfacing streets, but only three of nine planned projects were completed this summer: on Mooberry Street, Miller Avenue and Tussing Road. The six other projects must be completed by the end of June, said Rick Tilton, spokesman for the city's Public Service Department.

Other Columbus projects for next year will depend on the amount of city bonds that are issued, Tilton said.

This past summer, state and local projects combined to thwart traffic in the Ohio State University/Clintonville area.

ODOT ripped up and replaced the northbound lanes of Rt. 315 past Ohio State, just as the city was replacing the roadbeds of High Street from Lane Avenue to Arcadia Avenue and Henderson Road between Rt. 315 and High Street.

All those projects were completed ahead of schedule.

The $15.8 million High Street project got an entire package of work: replacing the road; installing new storm sewers, sidewalks, waterlines, decorative street lights, bike racks and trees; and putting electric utilities underground, Tilton said.

Henderson was a $4.2 million project that replaced 1.1 miles of the road and installed new sewers, waterlines, sidewalks and traffic signals. The deck of the bridge over the Olentangy River was replaced, and a widened bike trail was installed on its south side.

Work on Rt. 315 finished in late September, two weeks ahead of schedule, thanks to favorable weather. But only half of the $24 million in work is complete: Next spring, the overhaul of the other side of the freeway will begin in mid-June and conclude about the end of August.

"This year has actually run very well," Hedge said. "Things have run on schedule, on budget."