Route 30 may be back on track

LISBON – The on-again, off-again U.S. Route 30 project may be on again, thanks to the promise of $500,000 in state funding to study what other improvements can be made aside from turning the Columbiana County section into a four-lane freeway.

Ohio Department of Transportation Deputy Director Lloyd MacAdam, whose district includes the county, said the state controlling board is expected to authorize the release of $500,000 for a feasibility study of Route 30 from East Canton in Stark County to state Route 11 near West Point, to determine “if you can get a fundable project out of that.”

The ultimate goal of long-time supporters has been to convert the 40-mile section from a two-lane, windy road to a freeway, but MacAdam said that is out of the question given the $800 million-$900 million price tag. The most recent efforts focused on turning the section into a toll road to cover the costs, but a study determined charging fees four times more than the Ohio Turnpike would generate only $475 million.

Undeterred, county Engineer Bert Dawson and other local supporters reworked the funding package, keeping the toll-road component and asking for $120 million in new state money available from selling turnpike bonds and emphasizing the need for action because of increased truck traffic from the oil and gas development underway in the region. The project failed to receive enough points under ODOT’s TRAC scoring system to be considered for funding within the next four years.

MacAdam said this was a clear message from TRAC that turning Route 30 into a freeway “is too costly and we need to come up with a project that is cheaper and will address more immediate needs.”

He said local supporters are correct in emphasizing the impact of increased traffic from oil and gas development, which will only grow in coming years. That is why the study will likely focus on what can be done to improve Route 30 without turning it into a freeway, such as creating bypasses around communities and making improvements at busy intersections. MacAdam said likely candidates for bypasses would be Minerva, Hanoverton and Lisbon.

Because MS Consultants of Youngstown performed past studies on Route 30 project, it will be recommended for the new study when the state controlling board meets Nov. 25 to approve the funding request, MacAdam said.

The preliminary study is to take 18 months to complete and will come with a preliminary engineering cost estimate for the proposed improvements, which MacAdam said they can take to TRAC to seek further funding.

“It’s an aggressive schedule,” he said of the timetable. “We really want to get moving on this.”