To improve safety and encourage development, Governor Bob Taft and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 5 Deputy Director Myron Pakush broke ground on June 8th for the first phase of the $150-million, 12.6-mi. relocation and widening of State Route 161, located between New Albany and Granville, Ohio.
“Today’s ground breaking reinforces the Governor’s commitment to increase safety and mobility while improving the state’s business climate and encouraging new economic development,” said ODOT Director Gordon Proctor.
“Upgrading this stretch of State Route 161 to a four-lane highway will create a safer and more efficient route for commuters and improve access for people and goods between eastern and central Ohio,” Taft said. “Our Jobs and Progress Plan will stimulate Ohio’s economy and create new jobs by rebuilding our overstressed and aging highway system for the 21st century.”
This first phase is a continuation of the Northeast Expressway Transformation (NExT) project and is expected to be completed in summer 2008. Phase two, which will start at Watkins Road and extend east to the existing four-lane section of SR 161 in Granville will begin in 2007 and is estimated to be completed in November 2008.
Dramatic changes are taking place on the northeast side of Columbus. As part of NExT, new interchanges at I-270/SR 161 and Sunbury Road include replacing, rebuilding or re-working 17 bridges, 18 ramps, and 5 mi. of highway. Work on this portion of the project began in June 2004. New “fly-over” ramps allow motorists to connect directly with the freeway, eliminating the existing “cloverleafs,” lane sharing, complicated merging and weaving, and pinch points.
Outdated and overburdened, Sunbury Road has sustained the most extensive traffic congestion as a result of the work. The Dempsey Road bridge over I-270 was closed for lengthening at the same time work was being done on Sunbury Road.
I-270 is being widened to accommodate the new ramps that will allow direct connections to and from SR 161. Work on I-270 couldn’t begin until Dempsey Road was lengthened and the SR 161 ramps couldn’t be completed until I-270 was widened.
Noise walls also are being erected, and are included in this project, rather than being completed a year or two later under a separate contract, because of the population density in the mostly residential area.
According to ODOT, “While it may seem like poor planning because it is tying up traffic on Sunbury Road, we felt it was worth it for six months if it meant taking a year and a half off the end of the project.”
A minimum of one mi. between on/off ramps is necessary. To keep traffic moving there isn’t enough room for the Easton, Morse Road and SR 161 exits in that small distance.
A system of collector and distributor lanes will tie in with the existing “extra” lanes that are near Easton. All SR 161 traffic will exit I-270 north onto the lanes that are currently used for SR 161 eastbound. Traffic entering I-270 from SR 161 will merge onto the freeway further north, in their own lane where they no longer have to fight traffic trying to get off I-270, according to ODOT.
“Much of the traffic problem in the area today is caused by motorists who are entering the highway being forced to share lanes or weave across lanes where other motorists are exiting the highway. In the 1960’s when traffic volumes were much lower, this worked. But with 135,000 vehicles per day using the SR 161/I-270 interchange, this is no longer safe or efficient. To eliminate this problem, we had to separate all of the SR 161 traffic from the I-270 through traffic,” according to an ODOT District 5 press release.
• The I-270/SR 161/Sunbury Road interchanges are some of the most congested in Columbus. Built in the late 1960’s, they were designed to accommodate about 58,000 vehicles per day. Traffic count is at about 135,000 today and that number is expected to rise to 193,000 by 2020.
• The Sunbury Road/SR 161 interchange was designed to handle about 21,000 vehicles per day and currently handles about 90,000. It is expected to rise to about 188,000 by 2025.
• This project, as well as nine others, were part of the C.D.M.S. — Collector, Distributor, Morse, Stelzer Road projects — that began in the 1990’s to improve these and SR 161 and the I-270 corridor on the northeast side of Columbus.
Growth and development in Franklin and Licking counties is expected to continue. SR 161 is one of the last links to completing Ohio’s macro-corridor system. This upgrade to the macro-corridor is an important step for ODOT to achieve its goal of placing more than 90 percent of Ohio’s population within 10 mi. of an adequate highway corridor and providing every region of the state with a modern transportation corridor, according to ODOT.
“Since the announcement of Governor Taft’s Jobs and Progress Plan, ODOT has been carefully planning its construction program to deliver this major investment,” said ODOT’s Proctor. “With projects under way in every region of the state, the full plan is beginning to unfold.”
Safety and mobility are at the heart of all of ODOT’s macro-corridor upgrades. The 1999-2001 accident rate of approximately 170 accidents annually in the SR 161/37 corridor is approximately 70 percent higher than the average for similar roadways across the state.
Traffic pattern changes have become the norm. A two-month ramp closure at Sunbury Road and SR 161 began in September. The detour was: Sunbury Road to Morse Road; Morse Road to Hamilton Road; Hamilton Road to SR 161. That ramp has now been re-opened.
Those traveling eastbound from the Worthington area have not been permitted to use the temporary ramp, having to continue on to Little Turtle Way and turn around. The left turn lane at Strawberry Farms has been permanently eliminated in anticipation of the new flyover ramp opening, causing motorists to go down to SR 3 and turn around until a U-turn is constructed in summer 2007.
An official website has been set up for motorists to keep up with the changes. www.161next.org. CEG