ODOT presents I-70 detour plans
HEBRON - The next time I-70 is closed or floods near the Ohio 79 interchange ODOT will be prepared.
Monday morning, ODOT representatives attended a meeting in the Hebron Municipal Complex to discuss options for controlling I-70 traffic, should the interstate close temporarily. This was a follow-up meeting to an earlier meeting this summer.
Closures of I-70 near the Ohio 79 intersection are particularly troublesome for the Village of Hebron because US 40 runs straight through the village. The snarl of cars and trucks makes it impossible for the village to operate normally during the I-70 closure as miles of traffic crawls through the village. Normal activities in Hebron practically grind to a halt as an almost solid wall of traffic blocked residents in their driveways, school buses were unable to deliver children, and emergency vehicles had nowhere to go.
Monday, ODOT District 5 Planning and Programs Administrator Julie Gwinn presented a draft of four detour plans - which ODOT calls "plays" - to redirect traffic around I-70 closures. Each play is designed to redirect traffic around the flooded area while minimizing traffic problems for the villages of Hebron and Buckeye Lake.
• Play 1: When only I-70 eastbound is closed which occurs more frequently and first during floods, eastbound traffic will exit at Ohio 37. Trucks will travel south on Ohio 37 and turn left onto Ohio 79 and travel east through the Village of Buckeye Lake. They will re-enter I-70 at the Ohio 79 entrance ramp and continue eastbound.
Cars will exit Ohio SR 37 and travel north and turn right onto US 40, traveling east through the Village of Hebron. Cars will turn south onto Ohio 79 and re-enter I-70 at Ohio 79 entrance ramp and continue eastbound.
• Play 1A: Play 1A is identical to Play 1, except detoured cars are directed east on US 40 all the way to the Ohio 13 interchange.
• Play 2: I-70 westbound may eventually close as floodwaters rise. When I-70 is completely blocked, all westbound traffic will exit at Ohio 79 and travel north to US 40, then west through Hebron to rejoin I-70 at its Ohio 37 interchange. Eastbound traffic will exit at Ohio 37 and travel south to Ohio 79, turn left and travel east through Buckeye Lake, rejoining I-70 east at its Ohio 79 interchange.
• Play 3: In the event I-70 westbound closes but eastbound remains open, cars and trucks will take separate routes similar to Play 1, but trucks will travel north through Hebron, and cars will travel south through Buckeye Lake.
Tuesday, ODOT District 5 spokesperson Kate Stickle said ODOT is working with Hebron Police, the Licking County Sheriff's Office, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol to decide who will be in charge of traffic control. Stickle said ODOT will definitely be involved and law enforcement officers may monitor the intersections, but these details are still to be decided.
Hebron Village Administrator Mike McFarland said ODOT would install permanent signs around the area to guide traffic through the various plays. The signs will remain folded until ODOT announces the specific play.
"ODOT recognized that this is a significant issue for the communities along I-70," said McFarland. "They deserve a lot of credit for pulling it together."
Licking County Emergency Management Director Jeff Walker expects a telephone warning system will be operational in November. "We're just waiting to get the contract finished," he said. The system will call a list of phone numbers, such as Lakewood Schools, when I- 70 is closed. The system has been in test mode for a couple months with limited phone numbers, he said, but will be capable of contacting many more numbers when it's officially operational.
The system was used Oct. 9 after a fuel tanker rolled at the Ohio 79 interchange, killing the driver and blocking an I-70 exit ramp. Walker said some contacts had be called manually, causing a delay in notification. He said the incident shows the system still needs some work. Walker said the entire process is "evolving and growing," but people are generally very positive about the ODOT plan, which may be revised and believe it may relieve some of Hebron and motorists' frustrations with I-70 closures. "We thought it was a really good first draft," he said.
Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason agreed. "I think it's a great start," he said. "I give ODOT a lot of credit." He said the plan still has some "bugs" to work out, but at least there's a plan. Obviously, he said no one will know how successful the plan is until an I-70 closure actually happens, but with some adjustments Mason believes ODOT's plays should be very helpful.
Mason is particularly pleased that ODOT will train people for traffic control. He said Hebron can't afford to have all its police officers tied up directing traffic for hours during a closure.
Buckeye Lake Mayor Frank Foster likes the plan. "I think the plans for traffic flows based on the various scenarios is as good as can be expected," he said. The unfortunate reality, said Foster, is
I-70 closes often. "ODOT's plan is well thought out and makes a difficult situation as palatable as can be expected," he said. For the plan to work, Foster believes all agencies need to be on board and follow ODOT's protocols. He expects it will allow for a more organized traffic flow through Buckeye Lake Village during closures and will be an improvement over past situations.
The next meeting to discuss ODOT's plan is at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 17, at the Hebron Municipal Complex.