An idea originally sketched on a cocktail napkin to reduce daily traffic jams at the Fields Ertel/Mason-Montgomery interchange off Interstate 71 broke ground Tuesday.
State, regional and local officials gathered at the busy interchange to kick off construction of a “loop ramp” project expected to reduce traffic flow in the area by as much as 50 percent.
The plan, drawn seven years ago over lunch by Warren County Commissioner Dave Young, will add an exit-only lane from northbound I-71 that will circle through a Metro park-and-ride at the northeast corner of Mason-Montgomery and Fields Ertel.
Traffic from the new loop ramp will flow directly onto Mason-Montgomery Road, allowing motorists heading north to bypass Fields Ertel completely, explained Joe Vogel, a planning and engineering administrator with the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 08 in Lebanon.
The $12 million project is the centerpiece of several planned improvements to the traffic-clogged interchange, which has long been a source of frustration for residents and commuters.
“We think it’s the piece that will have the most positive impact,” said Vogel. “By taking traffic out of that very congested intersection and allowing people to make that shortcut should help tremendously. It will still be congested, but it will function a lot better.”
About 80,000 vehicles travel through the intersection each day, with about half of those motorists headed north on Mason-Montgomery Road, said Young.
The loop ramp represents Warren County’s “single most important infrastructure improvement” and ranks among the top five most important transportation projects in Greater Cincinnati, he said.
The area is a key economic engine for Warren County. Within miles of the interchange are, among others: Procter & Gamble’s Mason Business Center, Deerfield Towne Center shopping center, Kings Automall and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Mason campus.
Several projects have already been completed: A $1.6 million project built an additional northbound lane from Fields Ertel to Parkway Drive and a $1.4 million project coordinated 22 traffic signals in the area.
In November, crews completed work on a $1.4 million project that added an additional right turn lane from southbound I-71 onto Mason-Montgomery Road.
Wrapping up next fall is a $2 million project to expand the exit lane at the northbound Fields Ertel/Mason-Montgomery exit to allow vehicles to exit I-71 and move onto an expanded off ramp sooner.
Preliminary work on the loop ramp is expected to begin within several weeks with construction to begin in March and complete by late 2015.
Because much of the work is set to take place outside the roadway, traffic disruptions will be minimal during construction, said Vogel.
Uncorking the bottleneck has been a 20 year focus for county transportation planners. Previously, officials delayed proposed fixes for the interchange that would have cost as much as $75 million and taken 15 years to complete, said Young.
“We’re doing it in about half the time it could take at a fraction of the cost,” he said. “I made one campaign promise when I came to office nine years ago and that was to fix Fields Ertel. This is the greatest day of my political life.”
Information: www.advancingfieldsertel.com; call 513-804-8033.