, jhouck@communitypress.com1:28 p.m. EDT August 12, 2016

An Ohio Department of Transportation official says the state is closing the Ridge Road north exit ramp off Interstate 71 to make traveling safer and to ease traffic congestion.

State transportation officials will replace the exit that leads to Columbia Township’s Ridge Road/Highland Avenue business district with a new one that leads directly to Kennedy Avenue, said Brian Cunningham, communications manager with the Ohio Department of Transportation’s district office in Lebanon.

“This was primarily closed to eliminate weaving and merging movements from northbound 71 to Ridge and also from Kennedy to I-71 northbound,” Cunningham said.

“The decision to remove the Ridge Road ramp also was based on…ease of access from I-71 northbound to Ridge Road via state Route 562 – where one can go either left or right onto Ridge – and we will be making Ridge Road two lanes from state Route 562 north where it currently is only one lane.”

Columbia Township Administrator Mike Lemon said recently he was surprised to learn the state planned to close the Ridge Road north exit when he attended a public meeting in July hosted by the Ohio Department of Transportation that he thought was about state plans to add a lane to northbound I-71 and to add sound-barrier walls.

Lemon subsequently arranged a meeting to allow representatives of Columbia Township, Pleasant Ridge and businesses to ask state transportation officials why they plan to close the Ridge Road north exit and why they did not tell local people earlier that they were considering the move.

“ODOT apologized publicly several times for not involving the township earlier,” Lemon said.

“Three representatives were in attendance and were informative and helpful in explaining the project detail and how it will affect traffic flow.

“I think the meeting and sharing details of the project diminished the anxiety of some attendees, caused by lack of information,” Lemon said.

Bill Brinkmann, general manager of Mark Sweeney Buick GMC at 3365 Highland Ave., said he and Mark Sweeney attended the meeting and found it informative.

“We are in favor of the project and believe that it will help to support the revitalization of the Pleasant Ridge business district,” Brinkmann said.

Cunningham agreed that, “It is my understanding the meeting went well. We were asked to provide additional information such as traffic counts and analyze a few possible changes such as signing options.”

But Cunningham said the Ohio Department of Transportation is committed to the project; construction is to begin in spring 2018 and take a year.

“We are continuing to move along with the project,” Cunningham said.

Lemon said state transportation officials at the meeting he arranged agreed to review his proposal to reopen the link from Duck Creek Road to the north lanes of Ridge Road, which now dead ends.

“The ODOT officials listened to the concerns and recommendations of the participants and said they would include them in its environmental review in the process which will be completed in late fall,” Lemon said.

“I requested audience members to detail their concerns in a letter or email and send it to ODOT for inclusion in the public record as the project process proceeds.

“Several of the concerns mentioned were traffic impact on business district streets, Duck Creek reopening to Ridge Road, ability of large semi-trucks to navigate the exit ramp lanes, exit and wayfinding signage and more,” Lemon said.

Want to know more about what is happening in Columbia Township? Follow me on Twitter @jeannehouck.

What the Ohio Department of Transportation plans to do:

Widen northbound Interstate 71 to three continuous through lanes between the Norwood Lateral and Red Bank Expressway interchanges by eliminating the existing loop exit ramp to northbound Ridge Road. The proposed additional lane will continue north from the Ridge Road overpass to the exit ramp at Red Bank Expressway.

Construct a new straight exit ramp from northbound I-71 to Kennedy Avenue.

Modify the existing entrance ramp from Kennedy Avenue to northbound I-71 to allow it to pass between the pier and abutment of the Kennedy Avenue overpass.

Provide a new traffic signal on Kennedy Avenue for the new exit ramp and modified entrance ramp.

Modify Ridge Road between Duck Creek Road and the I-71 overpass to provide two northbound lanes.

Why the Ohio Department of Transportation plans to do it:

Safety: This section of northbound Interstate 71 is ranked ninth out of 77 Hamilton County segments that have a higher than predicted frequency of crashes for this road type, state transportation officials say.

A study concluded that 45 percent of all crashes in the area occurred on northbound I-71. Seventy percent of the northbound crashes occurred during the evening and likely were related to congestion created as two lanes drop at the state Route 562 and Ridge Road north interchange.

Traffic congestion – This section of northbound I-71 is among the top 25 (out of 179) most congested state and interstate highway segments in Ohio, state transportation officials say.

Currently, 67,540 to 71,810 vehicles travel this section daily. By 2036, that range is expected to increase to 70,880 to 76,310 vehicles a day.