COLUMBIANA -Standing at the crossroads of state Routes 7 and 14 on Friday city, state and business leaders saw first-hand the amount of traffic struggling to get through the busy intersection that is the site of a planned upgrade slated for 2018.
City Manager Lance Willard, alongside Mayor Bryan Blakeman and other city representatives, met with Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Deputy Director Lloyd McAdam, and representatives from Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson's offices for a brief ceremony at the intersection celebrating the long-awaited project.
The intersection is also the site of a major development project targeted to begin next spring, which McAdam said played a significant factor in the department's decision to award funding for the costly traffic upgrades.
Ohio Department of Transportation Deputy Director Lloyd McAdam (left) looks over the planned traffic upgrade design Friday at the intersection with City Manager Lance Willard and Chamber of Commerce President Leah Wilson. (Salem News photo by Katie White)
"That showed a clear need," he said of developer Tom Mackall's plan for an extensive shopping plaza on one side of state Route 14 and a market place on the other side that will draw additional traffic in the coming years to the already congested intersection.
City officials had been seeking ODOT funding for the upgrades for nearly a decade, with a traffic study conducted in 2006.
Mackall called upon Jobes Henderson and Associates to perform another traffic study at the intersection to see how his project would impact the intersection, and those results were submitted to ODOT, to help the city with it's grand funding requests.
Jobes Henderson and Associates is the same company that updated the 2006 study in 2012. The grant funding requests submitted at those times were both rejected by ODOT. The company was assisted by Dallis Dawson & Associates of East Liverpool on the latest study.
"I'm excited to make improvements with Columbiana. We had to get this done. If we didn't get this intersection done, we couldn't have our development," Mackall said.
Construction will begin on the development next year, while the traffic upgrades won't begin for another four years, however.
McAdam said the project was stacked against several other projects seeking funding across the state over the years, "and we encouraged them to keep applying."
Because the roads are state-owned any changes to the traffic signal or lanes must be approved by ODOT, and approval is typically only given to those projects ODOT deems to be necessary based on traffic crash frequencies, with fatalities given the highest priority.
The city did receive safety funds to reinstall traffic loop detectors and update the signal operation in 2006, but additional turn lanes and new signals are needed to help relieve congestion and improve safety, he said.
The upgrades will cost $2.5 million and the city has been awarded $1.2 million through ODOT's Small City Program Grant Funds, to be distributed in 2018, with an additional $500,000 in funding available immediately.
The city will be required to come up with the remaining funds, including covering the cost of the necessary rights-of-way and engineering, and Willard has said he is looking into low interest loans or tax increment financing to cover those costs.
"This project was awarded safety funds because of the hard work and determination of the city. Although this intersection wasn't ranked on the state's safety list, the city demonstrated through its safety application that it was their top safety location," McAdam said.
Tim Ross, liaison for Gov. Kasich, said the upgrades are a "very important project for the county and an example of the community collaborating to get stuff done."
Congressman Johnson could not attend the groundbreaking ceremony due to a House session on the crisis at the southern border, but said in a press release he was proud to support the project and wished to thank ODOT for awarding the funds.
Johnson got involved on the city's behalf and met with ODOT officials last month to encourage funding.
"The funding to enable this groundbreaking is a huge step forward toward long-term economic development in the City of Columbiana," he said. "Success like this is what happens when a community is truly collaborative and forward-thinking."