Home Politics Nelsonville bypass, planned for decades, nears completion

Nelsonville bypass, planned for decades, nears completion

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Drivers headed from Columbus to Athens along Rt. 33 will soon have several minutes shaved off their commute time once the Nelsonville bypass, scheduled for completion later this month, opens up.

The project is just one step in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s mission to continue improving highways statewide, especially due to large amounts of travelers over the summer and during Labor Day weekend.

“Ohio is the fourth most traveled interstate in the country. We spend billions of dollars each year on preservation and maintenance [of highways, which] includes everything from re-filling potholes….guardrail repair and even resurfacing entire highways,” ODOT Press Secretary Steve Faulkner said.

None of this would be possible without the gas tax. According to TaxFoundation.org, Ohio drivers pay a tax of 28 cents per gallon at the pump, which places the Buckeye State 21st in the nation in terms of highest gasoline taxes.

The increasing popularity of alternative modes of transportation, such as hybrid and electric-powered vehicles, could hurt ODOT’s funding for future projects and improvements.

“More fuel efficient vehicles are a great thing, but they have a big impact on ODOT’s funding,” Faulkner said. “ODOT is funded entirely by the motor fuel tax.”

To ensure that the money from the fuel tax doesn’t go to waste, improvement projects must be approved by a special ODOT committee known as the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC). According to Faulkner, TRAC’s job is more important than ever because “the needs are growing around the state.”

The nine-member committee, led by ODOT Director Jerry Wray, “assists in developing a project selection process for ODOT’s largest investments…[and] also approves Major New projects for funding,” according to its website.

In its policies and procedures manual, TRAC defines “Major New projects” as “those projects greater than $12 million which increase the capacity of a transportation facility or reduce congestion.” Billed at $160 million, the Nelsonville project easily fits into the Major New category.

Projects such as the Nelsonville bypass would not be able to happen without the group’s approval. TRAC reviews applications very carefully and pays special attention to whether or not the benefits of the project will outweigh the costs. Environmental factors, such as possible changes in air quality during construction, are taken into consideration. For instance, one possible reason for the Nelsonville project’s approval might be the fact that it will ultimately protect the environment in the Wayne National Forest area.

The approval process isn’t always easy, and in some extreme cases may take decades without the proper funds. According to ODOT, the Nelsonville bypass was originally planned in the 1960s, with construction set to begin in the 1970s. However, due to the oil embargo in the United States during that decade, funding was scarce and the project was put on hold.

Today, two of the three “phases” of the project are currently open for drivers. Construction on Phase Three, which has a scheduled completion date of October 2013, is ahead of schedule. For some time, it was thought that this final phase might reach completion and open to traffic in July or August.

However, ODOT spokesman David Rose told the Athens Messenger in July that due to rainy weather throughout the month, the opening date was again pushed back to September. He noted, though, that the project was still “definitely ahead of the original completion date.”

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One Comment

  1. Greg Jeffers

    September 30, 2013 at 10:40 AM



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