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U.S. 33 Nelsonville Bypass Gets Critical ARRA Funds

Tue June 30, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Linda J. Hutchinson

The Nelsonville Bypass in southeastern Ohio is the largest project to be approved through the federal transportation stimulus program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), in Ohio. “Because of the funding, construction that was not scheduled to start until 2012 will now be complete by 2012,” said State Representative Dan Dodd (D-91st district).

The project, on hold for lack of state funding since the 1990s, has received $150 million in federal stimulus money, enough to complete the $200 million highway.

Phase one began in 2007 and is expected to be complete in August 2009 at a cost of $23 million. The focus was on dirt work and drainage for the interchange to include .96 mi. (1.5 km) of West Interchange Road and .05 mi. (.08 km) of Door Run Road.

Phase two is expected to go out for bid the beginning of August. Phase three is estimated to be around $100 million and is set to be let July 22.

Work on phases two and three could begin as early as August 2009. Phase two will construct 3.16 mi. (5 km) of four-lane earthwork and pave 4.56 mi. (7.3 km) of the four-lane mainline plus the west interchange.

Phase three will construct 3.9 mi. (6.3 km) of new four-lane mainline near Doanville, construct 1.6 mi. (2.6 km) of new re-routed S.R. 78 to connect to U.S. 33, and construct .5 mi. (.8 km) of S.R. 691 including the new Hocking River bridge construction of the east interchange of S.R. 78 through the Happy Hollow area. When completed, the new four-lane bypass will be 8.5 mi. (1.4 km) long.

“The bypass around Nelsonville will open Hocking County to more investment from business interests. I can tell you that I’ve personally been told by business owners that they have either refused to build new projects or expand existing projects in the area because of the traffic difficulties in getting through Nelsonville,” said Dodd.

“The investment in the Nelsonville Bypass will have the greatest local, regional, and multi-state economic impact than any other transportation project in District 10,” said Larry Woodford, ODOT District 10 deputy director. “Furthermore, the bypass will provide a safe connection to other major routes throughout our district and make travel easier to Appalachia and its unique destinations.”

The city of Lancaster, on U.S. 33 to the west of Nelsonville, saw marked improvements to traffic flow when its bypass was completed a few years ago. The Nelsonville bypass is the final leg of the larger plan to transform U.S. 33 into a safer, limited-access highway from Columbus, Ohio, to Ravenswood, W. Va.

“It is going to be great locally and for the whole region,” said Todd Shelton, interim director of the Athens County Economic Development Council.

When a new route is planned to bypass a city or town, there are always some who have concerns about the economic impact to their way of life.

“I think there is a little unease but they understand the greater picture,” said Shelton, who lives in Nelsonville. “I think they have come around to it.”

According to ODOT’s Web site, U.S. 33 “carries a substantial amount of interstate traffic between South Bend and Fort Wayne, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Charleston, West Virginia.” It connects the Midwest and east coast to Appalachia.

“When U.S. 33 reaches Nelsonville, it becomes two-lanes and creates a ’bottleneck’. The bottleneck creates numerous accidents and fatalities,” according to the Web site.

An estimated 1,700 trucks per day travel on some stretches between Columbus, Ohio, and Charleston, W. Va. It is one of the eight busiest truck routes in Ohio.

Viability studies were conducted in the 1950s and ’60s, with plans for construction in 1975. Then the 1973 gas and oil embargo decreased funding for highway projects. The project was resurrected in the mid-1990s with a 2002 priority project designation by the federal government.

Over the years, the bypass has had its share of dissention and mitigating circumstances. In 2006, Chad Kister of Nelsonville, said the “bypass would devastate the very reason people come to southeast Ohio.” He asked the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio EPA to deny permits “that would cause irreparable harm to critical endangered species habitat.”

At issue, besides Kister’s opinion that light rail would do more to reduce traffic with less environmental damage, were the clear-cutting of forests, depletion of wetlands, and disruption to the endangered Indiana Bat’s mating habitat.

“With a loss of more than 2,400 acres of primary roosting habitat, and the loss of stream corridors used for migration and wetlands necessary for food, this project would likely have a major impact on the bat population. The additional loss of mine portals used by the bats, and wetlands that are also important for the species, is a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and the water permits should be denied,” Kister stated.

According to an ODOT press release, portions of the ARRA’s transportation stimulus funds totaling $774 million will be spent in nearly every Ohio county. Based on federal calculations for transportation investment, an estimated 21,257 jobs will be created or retained through these stimulus projects, with thousands of additional jobs likely to be spurred by the economic development that will occur as a result of the projects.

District 10 received approximately $164 million in transportation stimulus funds.

For more information. call David Rose at 740/568-3904 or visit CEG

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