LISBON -The new county agency created to seek funding for the U.S. Route 30 project has already begun to pay dividends.
Officials learned recently the Columbiana County Transportation Improvement District's application for a $250,000 state planning grant has been approved for the Route 30 project.
The TID board was created several months ago by county commissioners for the specific purpose of helping find funding for Route 30, and one of its first official acts was to apply for a $250,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation. ODOT set aside $3.5 million for TIDs, and the county was eligible to apply for up to $250,000.
The TID board and other supporters want to convert the two-lane Route 30 into a freeway through the county, which they believe will spur economic development along the corridor, especially given the oil and gas drilling activity underway in the area.
Earlier this year ODOT awarded $500,000 to MS Consultants for a study, to be completed by August 2015, to determine which sections of the 35-mile stretch of Route 30 in the county have the worst traffic congestion, the highest traffic volume related to drilling activity, and the highest number of traffic accidents, and then make recommendations.
The additional $250,000 received by TID will fund a preliminary study that county Engineer Bert Dawson said will take what MS is doing and incorporate it into a long-term blueprint for completing the Route 30 project.
County Development Director Tad Herold, who serves on the TID board, said they are taking a different approach this time by doing the project in segments because of the nearly $1 billion price tag that comes with building the freeway all at once. He said the new approach will make the project more affordable and increase the likelihood of obtaining state and federal funding.
For years, the idea was to start the project at the East Canton end of Route 30 in Stark County and move eastward through Columbiana County. Dawson said they decided to do just the opposite with the project, starting at state Route 11 just north of West Point.
"Quite frankly, waiting for it from East Canton, that could take a long time to reach the county, and the Columbiana County portion is in much greater" need of being addressed immediately, he said.
Dawson said this approach would benefit the county by addressing the increased truck traffic resulting from the natural gas collection and processing plant in Kensington. He said these trucks need a quicker, a safer way to get to Route 11, as do the trucks coming from adjoining Carroll County, which is where the majority of drilling activity in Ohio is currently occurring.
A preliminary study was performed 10 years ago or more on the environmental and realignment portion of the freeway project, and Dawson said the grant received by TID will also take a look at how much of that work would need to be redone.
"We feel a lot of it hasn't changed," he said.