COSHOCTON — Officials with the Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor Association believe the time is now to complete a 160-mile four-lane highway linking the two cities.
Just 47 miles of two-lane highway need to be expanded to four lanes, most of them in Tuscarawas and Harrison counties.
"It’s not going to be an easy task," said Ed Looman, chairman of the association, speaking at a news conference Tuesday in Coshocton.
The association was re-formed earlier this year and is working to get funding for a new feasibility study.
"We realize that we have a lot of heavy lifting in front of us to get our case heard at the right levels in order to try to get the funding we need to get this study done," he said.
Jeannette Wierzbicki, executive director of the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, estimated that it would cost between $800 million and $900 million to complete the stretch from Newcomerstown to Cadiz.
In recent years, more than 9,500 jobs have been created and more than $5 billion in private investments have been made in the six counties along the corridor - Licking, Muskingum, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Harrison and Jefferson.
"Imagine what we could have done if it had been four lane all the way," she said.
Good infrastructure helps drive economic growth, she added. Completion of the highway would create thousands of jobs and generate billions in private investment.
Nick Homrighausen, economic development director for Harrison County and co-chair of the association, said it is difficult to attract industries to his county that want to locate near natural gas processing plants in Cadiz, Hopedale and Scio because of the lack of four-lane highways.
Most companies need to be within five to 10 miles of a four-lane, he said.
"Really, it’s time to stop disenfranchising an entire region from what it truly can become," he said. "We’re not asking for a new road. We’re just asking to finish what is started."
A four-lane highway boost economic development and improve safety.
U.S. Route 250 around Tappan Lake in Harrison County "is not the safest road in Ohio to travel," Looman said.
The Ohio Highway Patrol recently released information showing there were 70 crashes on a 10-mile stretch of that highway in Harrison County between 2015 and 2017, he said.
Looman, Wierzbicki and Homrighausen all said the biggest challenge to completing the project is the section along Tappan Lake, where Route 250 hugs the north shoreline for much of the way.
A 2011 study looked at the possibility of take the highway south of the lake, Looman said. There even was consideration of making it a toll road.
The study would come up with options to get past the lake.
The next step for the project will be to get the support of county commissioners and city and village councils along the route and to find ways to fund a new study.
Tuscarawas County Commissioner Joe Sciarretti expressed his support for the proposal.
"If they can put a bypass around Portsmouth, they can certainly connect two metropolitan areas that Amazon may put their next headquarters in," he said. "We have a lot more to offer than our friends in Portsmouth, I would say."