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I-70 detours are now set

HEBRON – ODOT District 5 is ready for an I-70 closure when and if it ever happens again.

District 5 Planning and Programs Administrator Julie Gwinn presented District 5’s plan for dealing with I-70 closures to The Beacon May 7. Flooding and traffic accidents have closed I-70 near the Ohio 79 interchange at Buckeye Lake once or twice a year on average in recent years. Even partial closures – eastbound lanes are flooded more frequently – send thousands of vehicles on a snarled journey through Hebron and the Village of Buckeye Lake on US 40 and Ohio 79 respectively, completely disrupting both communities.

ODOT officials and local authorities have worked together to deal with the traffic issues but until now there’s been no clear and organized plan defining each party’s responsibility. Gwinn’s plan defines how traffic will be routed under several different circumstances and an automatic notification system is in place through the Licking County Emergency Management office.

“I give a lot of credit to ODOT,” said Hebron Police Chief James Dean, who’s dealt with his share of closures and recalled a time when a detoured truck routed through Hebron ran out of fuel, creating an almost impassable logjam in the village.

“Local authorities know who’s doing what,” said Gwinn. ODOT employees will man the intersections and an emergency management trailer will be available to help coordinate longer closures. The plan includes several “plays,” or traffic routes for various circumstances:

• Play 1: When only I-70 eastbound is closed – Whenever the westbound lane is open, I-70 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.

Passenger vehicles will exit at Ohio 37 and travel north and turn right onto US 40, traveling east through the Village of Hebron. They will turn south onto Ohio 79 and reenter I-70 at Ohio 79 entrance ramp and continue eastbound.

• Play 1A: Play 1A is identical to Play 1, except detoured passenger vehicles 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, passenger vehicles 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.

Play illustrations are available on ODOT District 5’s web site.

Gwinn said traffic control signs are now in place, which flip open to instruct motorists how to proceed. “That’s going to save a lot of time,” she said. Trucks may stay on I-70 during flooding until the water crossing the highway becomes too deep, said Gwinn. Electronic signs above I-70 will warn traffic of the closure all the way to Columbus to the west and as far to the east as possible.

Hebron Village administrator Mike McFarland said he’ll alert the factories north of Hebron to avoid the I-70 closure area. “It’s 1,000 percent better than it was in the past,” he said. “The interagency cooperation has been spectacular. There’s a real sense of partnership on this project.”

Lakewood Superintendent Jay Gault was a part of the committee that helped put the plan together. During one of the closures, some students were stuck in a school bus for nearly four hours. “I think it’s a great plan,” he said. “It really minimizes the headaches for the villages as well as our school system.”

“I think it’ll work very well when and if the time comes,” said Dean.

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