LISBON - The Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce is unsure whether turning U.S. Route 30 into a freeway that would bypass the village is a good thing for local merchants.
For that reason, chamber officials are holding off on a request for a letter in support of the project until they can talk with other Ohio communities to learn what impact Route 30 had when it bypassed their towns.
The letter of support came up at this week's chamber meeting after it was requested by Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson, one of the project's leading proponents.
Route 30 currently runs through downtown Lisbon before joining state Route 11 just east of the village. The plan being pushed by supporters calls for a new Route 30 to be built from East Canton and across the county, replacing the winding, two-lane road with a freeway that would connect with Route 11 near West Point.
Both of the two proposed realignments under consideration would pass south of Lisbon, and the southernmost one is closer to Gavers than Lisbon. The cost range from $636 million to $726 million, but county commissioners recently created a transportation improvement district in the hopes of attracting funding needed to jumpstart planning efforts.
Chamber President Susan Shanks operates two businesses one on Route 30 near Hanoverton and another in Lisbon - and she said the concern is whether local merchants would see a considerable decline in business if the freeway bypasses the village.
"Our concern is would they (motorists) get off to visit Lisbon or would they just zoom on by," she said.
"It's hard to have support for a road that will take business away from us," said Barbara Kuder, who noted that local gas stations at the very least would lose business.
"I think it's a legitimate concern for our community," said Shank, who also understands the need for an east-west freeway to accommodate increased truck traffic resulting from the oil and gas boom underway in the region.
Chamber Director Marilyn McCullough said Ryan Hillman, who owns the the Steel Trolley Diner in downtown Lisbon, has told her he receives a considerable amount of business from people who stop after seeing his diner as they are driving through town. The upside is a bypass would result in less truck traffic and wear and tear on village streets.
"We don't know if there is an upside to the bypass. We would lose truck traffic, but is there an upside?" asked Patty Miller.
Dawn Chepke said the project could result in additional economic development, but that is likely to occur along the new freeway corridor.
"It's a double-edged sword," McCullough said.
Kuder would feel more comfortable sending a letter of support if the bypass had a direct exit ramp into Lisbon.
After further discussion, the board decided to table the matter until McCullough can check with chambers of commerce in communities west of Canton along Route 30 to determine how bypasses in those towns affected merchants.