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Plans in place to deal with I-70 closures

HEBRON – Local authorities should be well prepared if floodwaters or a major accident forces I-70 to close at the Ohio 79 interchange.

Licking County Emergency Management Director Jeff Walker said his office is conducting monthly tests of the telephone notification system that tells authorities and those who request notification, such as the Lakewood School District, when a flood or accident closes all or some of I-70. “We’ve been testing it since November,” he said.

ODOT District 5 spokesperson Kate Stickle said ODOT personnel are being trained to direct traffic and implement a quick closure.

Floodwaters and traffic accidents occasionally close some lanes or the entire highway just west of the Ohio 79 interchange near Buckeye Lake Village. Traffic can be snarled for hours as it’s detoured through Hebron and Buckeye Lake Village until the flood waters recede or the accident is cleared.

The traffic is especially troublesome to the two villages, which are basically shut down during the closure. Ohio 79 is the only roadway through Buckeye Lake, so when it becomes clogged with interstate traffic it makes local traffic very difficult. US 40 is the detour route through Hebron. US 40 bisects the village and when jammed with interstate traffic, it makes it hard to get from one side of the village to the other. School buses can be trapped in the traffic for hours.

Stickle said permanent detour signs, whose route numbers “flip” down when needed are in place. One electronic sign on each end of the detour will warn motorists during short-term closures, and six electronic signs on each end of the detour will warn motorists during long-term closures. Stickle said electronic signs will warn motorists driving westbound as early as Muskingum County; eastbound motorists will see warning signs as far away as Columbus. Stickle said ODOT will make every effort to help motorists avoid an I-70 closure, especially long-term closures.

Since January 2004, I-70 traffic was routed through Hebron Jan. 5, 2004; Jan. 6, 2005; and June 27, 2008 because of flooding near the Ohio 37 interchange, and traffic accidents closed the highway Oct. 6, 2005; Nov. 16, 2007; and June 20, 2008.

In October, ODOT District 5 representatives met with local authorities in Hebron to discuss creating a formal plan of action during closures. ODOT officials developed several “plays,” or traffic control scenarios should I-70 close.

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 – During most floods, the I-70 eastbound lanes are the first to flood. I-70 east between Ohio 37 and Ohio 79 closes first. Whenever westbound lanes are 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.

Cars will exit at Ohio 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 SR 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.

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