MASON, Ohio -- A temporary lane shift on Interstate 71 is expected to lead to less traffic congestion in the future.
The altered traffic pattern put in place by the Ohio Department of Transportation shifts traffic to the left lane on I-71 near Western Row Road. The change is in effect on both northbound and southbound I-71, but the number of lanes aren't being reduced.
“We’ve maintained the same number of lanes,” said Adam Treiber, project manager and engineer for ODOT District 8.
The temporary traffic pattern established at the start of the month marks the beginning of road construction to create a full-movement interchange at I-71 and Western Row Road. Tree trimming and utility work were completed this spring in preparation for construction.
A full-movement interchange means there will be entrances and exits at Western Row Road for both northbound and southbound I-71. The interchange originally was built with only an exit from northbound I-71 and an entrance onto southbound I-71 at Western Row Road. The new entrances will include separate ramps for eastbound and westbound traffic onto northbound I-71.
“I think most people around here have been waiting for this many, many years,” Mason City Manager Eric Hansen said.
The project also includes widening I-71 to four lanes in both directions between Western Row Road and the Kings Mill Road exit. In addition to the work on the highway, Western Row Road will be widened at Innovation Way and Cintas Boulevard. Innovation Way will be widened as well.
The project is expected to be cost about $20 million. With the exception of bridge work -- which is 90 percent covered through federal funding -- the project will be paid for with state money.
The current traffic pattern on I-71 is expected to be in place for about a year.
“That configuration will stay in at least one winter,” Treiber said.
The portion of highway under construction also will see variable speed limits. Digital signs will notify drivers of the speed limit based on when and where work is being performed within the construction zone.
While the number of highway lanes will generally remain the same during construction, there are expected to be various lane closures at night throughout the course of the project.
City officials expect minimal impact on traffic during construction.
“I don’t expect any interruptions,” Hansen said.
Once complete, ODOT representatives hope to see improvements in traffic flow as the result of the increased highway access and widening.
“There should be a lot less congestion,” Treiber said.
In addition to making things easier for drivers, that could mean a boost for businesses in the area.
“That corridor is very active with Kings Island, the tennis tournament and numerous corporate headquarters,” Hansen said.
“It is a critical piece of the regional economy,” added Michele Blair, economic development director for Mason.
The additional exit and entrance ramps also are expected to ease traffic congestion at the nearby Fields Ertel Road and Kings Mill exits on I-71.
“The other interchanges in the area will see less stress as well,” Treiber said.
The project is expected to be complete in the summer of 2019.