Paradigm Shift Awaits Attendees To ODOT Open House On CR 24/OH 66 Study

Next week Archbold area residents will get a chance to learn details of a feasibility study moving OH 66 to CR 24 west of town.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and the village will host an open house from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Northwest State Community College to show the results and how the shift will impact people’s properties.

The issue has become a hot-button sidelight to the village of Archbold’s request to have its boundaries confirmed by the county and separate itself from German Township in Fulton County. The two issues are independent of each other, but opponents of the separation have linked them together.

The question about shifting the truck traffic away from downtown Archbold to CR 24 has been discussed since the 1960s, according to a timeline provided by the village.

The story of making the shift a reality has been one of budding excitement doused by local opposition or economic downturns.
That first attempt got the support of the state and the railroad (who were asked to separate the grade) but downtown retailers killed the idea.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Archbold invested in creating an industrial park on low-value farmland. Millions of dollars went for streets and infrastructure. The long-term plan was to create a route for trucks and workers to get in and out of the park away from Defiance Street.

In the 1990s a plan to build a Lima to Lansing highway was proposed by officials from Michigan and Ohio. The route would have included U.S. 127 in Michigan, connecting with CR 24 near U.S. 20 and extending south to I-75 in Lima. But the economy tanked, stalling the project.

In 1995, the village purchased and additional 57 acres. Similar to the rest of the Industrial Park this was poor quality farmland but well suited for industrial development with 500 feet of road frontage on CR 24.

In 1997, a interchange for the Ohio Turnpike was constructed about a half mile north of U.S. 20A on what was then CR 24. OH 66 was relocated to CR 24 north of U.S. 20A. The plan at the time was to eventually extend OH 66 straight south to U.S. 6 using existing Road 24.

In 2009, Nolan Parkway was extended to CR 24 to relieve congestion at the Defiance Street intersections and open up 57 acres for development.

In 2010, the Northwest Ohio Education Service Center and NWOCCA moved into a new 50,000 square foot building on Nolan Parkway, bringing about 300 high paying jobs.

In January 2011, Archbold officials met with the Henry, Fulton and Defiance County commissioners and German Township Trustees. A letter asking for state support and funding to improve Road 24 to ODOT standards for truck traffic from U.S. 20A to U.S. 6 was signed by every elected official at that meeting and sent to various state and federal legislators.

In early 2013, the Fulton County Engineer told Archbold officials the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council would be accepting applications for projects that would include “a direct nexus” to the Ohio Turnpike. Construction funding for approved projects would come from pending sales of turnpike bonds.

In May 2013, Archbold made a presentation at the TRAC meeting in Toledo outlining the proposed project and the safety and economic development benefits it would provide. ODOT Director Jerry Wray was heard to say “Didn’t we promise this when the turnpike interchange was done in 1998?”

Late in 2013, ODOT awarded Archbold’s TRAC application with $1.3 million in federal highway and ODOT money to contract for a pre-engineering and environmental feasibility study. Archbold’s Council authorized $200,000 toward the project.

A joint board involving Henry and Fulton counties has been formed to oversee the project.

A committee including the village engineer, the two county engineers, and various ODOT representatives from District 2 to solicit and evaluate proposals from qualified consultants. The committee rated TetraTech as the best proposal submitted.

Because of concerns raised by the retail community in 2014 Archbold contracted with the Center for Regional Development from BGSU to perform an economic impact analysis of the project. The study cost Archbold $28,000, and was completed in early 2015. A brief summary of the findings follows.

Project would result in increased efficiency and opportunities for growth.

Combined annual economic impact of $31 million to Archbold.

Additional annual employee income of more than $4.6 million.

Annual employment growth of 58 direct jobs.

Empirical studies (real world projects using before and after data) in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa reveal there are rarely negative economic impacts from rural bypasses. The only times negative impacts are seen are in very small towns (less than 1,200) and places where retail was already dead or dying. In places similar to Archbold, retail and business activity in many cases actually increased after the bypass was constructed.

Retail and commercial business in Archbold does not depend on pass through traffic. It is supported and fed by the many manufacturing jobs in Archbold, and the surrounding agricultural community.

Archbold does not have three new car dealerships because of pass through traffic on OH 66, it has them because of the money brought to town by over 5,000 jobs, the findings stated. Relocation of SR 66 won’t change that. Based on the actual experience of towns like Antwerp and Waterville where U.S. 24, a much busier through highway, was relocated, the downtown business atmosphere has been enhanced by the absence of truck traffic. Safety has obviously been enhanced. North Baltimore, OH has had a similar experience with the relocation of U.S. 18.

After several months of negotiations on scope of work and fees for the work, a contract with TetraTech was signed in late 2015. After hearing that Norfolk Southern plans an increase of train traffic through Archbold of 50 percent over the next five years, Archbold’s Council authorized an additional $49,000 to include a grade separation study. Archbold currently sees about 110 trains per day. A 50 percent increase would take that number to more than 160.

Work began in early 2016 and is ongoing. TetraTech’s tentative schedule is as follows.

Feasibility study complete September 2016.

Preliminary design and preliminary right-of-way plans to be completed in 2017.

At the open house, there will be a chance for attendees to write down complaints, criticisms and comments. While some people would prefer a speaker and audience, the open house format is preferred.

“The study is under review in draft form and will be gone over,” Archbold Administrator Donna Dettling said. “This will be an open house, ODOT prefers it this way. It’s better for one on one.”

Each station will have a comments page and those comments will go into the draft and on the web page.

Dettling urged council members to attend at least a part of the event as the state needs to see the council there in “full force.”

Beyond the open house, next steps include Tetra Tech conducting the preliminary engineering and feasibility study phase of the project.

This will focus on data collection and analysis of the data: surveying, soil boring, traffic counts, etc.

Once the data is collected, analyzed and certified, the engineering feasibility study will be prepared and presented.

A preliminary design and environmental engineering proposal will then be prepared by the consultant based on the results of the feasibility study, public involvement and selected alternative(s).

While the village has significant projection of how a shift or improved truck access could aid westside businesses, German Township officials and residents along CR 24 and the area stated at the recent boundary hearing that turning the county route into a truck route and removing the stop signs would seriously jeopardize life and limb.

James Pruitt may be reached at publisher@thevillagereporter.com

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