The New Albany Company has asked transportation officials for a road through Licking County to connect I-71 north of Columbus and I-70 east of Columbus, according to a Licking County official.
“There is no route planned yet,” said Matt Hill, Technical Study Director with the Licking County Area Transportation office.
He said The New Albany Company, which has led the growth and development of the city of New Albany and its International Business Park in Licking County, requested the connector because companies in the business park “ship really expensive stuff all over the world, and they want quicker access to I-71, in particular.”
The request came to light this week when a map showing proposed road projects in Licking County appeared on a county website. The map has since been removed from the website.
Kristy Hawthorne, Program Administrator for the Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District, based in Newark, said the map was meant for internal use and should not have been posted on the agency’s public website.
A red line on the map showing a possible connector road running from the north of Johnstown toward Newark but then curving southeast just outside of Johnstown near where Intel is building the world’s largest computer-chip factory, and then traveling south between Alexandria and Granville toward I-70 in the vicinity of Etna or Kirkersville.
“From the Soil and Water standpoint, it (the path depicted for a connector road) is not accurate and there is no meat behind it,” Hawthorne said, after fielding calls from property owners in western Licking County who were concerned about how close to their homes such a road might run.
“People have called in tears,” she said.
While the web page on which the map was displayed cited numerous local government sources and other specific resources for details on the map, it also included a disclaimer that said, “This map depicts road improvements that are not guaranteed, and this map should not be used as a reference for what projects are happening, but instead what projects could happen going forward, based on local government planning documents.
Hawthorne said the path shown for a connector came from informal conversations and “was not based on information from any agency or plans currently in process.”
But the concept is being discussed, Hill said.
“There’s no specific plan and no timeframe for it,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Tom Rubey, Director of Development for The New Albany Company, said that “public infrastructure enhancement and investment is being analyzed by numerous public entities including the state of Ohio, ODOT, Franklin, Licking and Delaware counties, and a multitude of cities and municipalities.
“New Albany Company is an advocate of comprehensive regional planning that will accommodate the continued growth and economic investment in the region, which is expected to grow from 2 million to 4 million people in the next 20-30 years,” he said.
The New Albany Company has a successful track record when it comes to road projects, including the widening of Rt. 161 to four lanes from I-270 to Granville and the interchanges at Beech and Mink roads that serve the New Albany International Business Park.
“I know this: If New Albany Company is behind it, it will be done,” said Stephanie Taylor, an Alexandria resident who is helping lead a grassroots campaign against placing two asphalt manufacturing plants along Raccoon Creek and Rt. 37 on the edges of the village.
She said she is very concerned about the changes a connector road would bring to the area.
Jim Lenner, former Johnstown city manager and now president of Neighborhood Strategies consulting, is working with some communities in western Licking County. He said that he is aware of “discussions of concepts” of a connector, but it is unclear at this point whether it would be a new road or the widening of existing roads.
“I think it’s a possibility,” he said. “I’ve seen maps conceptually showing a connector continuing south of I-70 to connect with Rt. 33.”
An “outer-outerbelt” around the Columbus metropolitan area has been discussed for decades.
If a connector road were built between I-71 and I-70 around Johnstown, it could be the start of another ring freeway around Columbus and its suburbs.
And with it, Lenner said, would come more development.
“There is so much development heading our way – that would only exacerbate it,” he said. “With a major transportation corridor, it would only bring more development. … It would change the character of the area. No doubt about it.
“It depends on who you talk with about whether that’s positive or negative,” Lenner said.
He encouraged local residents who might be concerned about growth and development to attend meetings of local government officials and talk with their state representatives.
Alexis Fitzsimmons, executive director of Grow Licking County, an economic development organization, said she is aware of a consultant’s work to study the feasibility of an outer-outerbelt.
“That came up several months ago, but I’m not aware of a formal request,” she said.
She said that traffic on existing main routes in the Johnstown area – the intersection of Rts. 62 and 37 in Johnstown, in particular – is beyond capacity.
“I’m sure that a creative solution is needed,” she said. “The movement of people and goods in an efficient manner is always good.”
Alan Miller writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s journalism program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation. [email protected]