Denied: TRAC says no funding for bypass

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2004

COLUMBUS - Sorry, try again later.

Essentially that was the message that the Ohio Department of Transportation's Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) delivered to representatives from Lawrence County regarding funding for Phases 2 and 3 of the Chesapeake Bypass.

Dreamed about for decades, the bypass project, which has recently become known as the Tri-State Metro Outer Belt, appears to have hit another snag. It is not scheduled to receive funding to complete the project, leaving several elected leaders feeling as if the community had been misled.

Email newsletter signup

In December, the TRAC did not include the project on its $3.7 billion tentative project list for 2005-2010. Local officials filed an appeal and a group of local, state and national leaders visited Columbus Friday to argue on the project's behalf.

Once all was said and done, the project did not make the final list, but could possibly be added next year.

Still upset hours after the meeting, Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson called the decision another example of broken promises.

"I don't know why they asked us to come up there," Patterson said. "To me, they already had their minds made up. We have gone through this with several governors for a number of years."

Ralph Kline, co-chairman of the Greater Lawrence County

Area Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee made the trip and argued the point with the committee.

The group emphasized that the project is not just a bypass of a congested area, but a necessity for economic development and safe traffic flow in a rapidly growing community.

"They heard our appeal but did not make the recommendation to amend the existing TRAC project package," Kline said. "We, the community, and ODOT had differing opinions on the level of state commitment that was promised on the project."

The four-phased project would construct a four-lane highway spanning nine miles from State Route 7 where the four-lane currently dead ends on the other side of Proctorville.

Phase 1A has been completed and Phase 1B is under construction. Phase 2 of the project would construct two eastbound lanes from State Route 7 to State Route 527. Phase 3 would construct two westbound lanes and complete the interchanges.

Construction and land acquisition for Phases 2 and 3 are projected to cost more than $100 million.

It was ODOT's opinion that cost overruns on the first two phases that climbed from $32 million to $62 million, the fact that Phase 1 was a significant improvement on its own and because later phases do not compare with safety and traffic needs of other projects were all significant factors that justified not funding the project, Kline said.

However, the TRAC left the window of opportunity open, if only slightly. ODOT submitted its project applications for next year that included some level of funding for Phase 2 and the group was invited to come back and argue the case again in August, Kline said.

"Although they did not act today, they invited us to come back and present this summer to possibly get reinstated for the upcoming year," he said.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-6th) spoke at the meeting and was left with the feeling that the TRAC has let down all of southern Ohio.

"I just think this committee has a responsibility to keep its word," Strickland said. "As I tried to explain (Friday), people have altered their lives, moved their families, sold their property and made life decisions based on what they thought was a commitment from ODOT and this committee."

Though he understands the economic climate within the state and the entire nation, Strickland said it would be "a tragedy" if the TRAC does not make the right decision.

"The longer a project like this is postponed, the more costly it is going to be," he said.

In addition to past work that has allocated more than $10 million for the project, Strickland sponsored a bill moving through Congress that includes another $2 million.

As a downtown Proctorville resident for nearly 70 years, Dale Burcham has seen all the ups and downs of the project - practically from right out his front door.

"It is terrible the way they are doing people that live in that area (affected by Phase 2). People's lives are really hurt," he said. "People have had to sell their homes and buy new houses. Now, some people are left paying two house mortgages.

"The whole thing has been a mess since day one. My wife and I have been married for 50 years and they have been talking about this ever since."

The entire project is just another example of the fact that the leaders in Columbus have no idea what is going on in Lawrence County, he said.

ODOT even purchased the Forest Hills Golf course, the county's only public course, to apparently just let it sit in limbo.

"If they are not going to build the bypass, it looks like that was just a big waste of money," Burcham said.