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Time to move on highway corridor

When you look at a proposed 160-mile highway project, 47 miles might not seem like a lot.

But when completed, that overall length of highway — roughly 30 percent of the route — could be the key to increased economic growth across our region, according to the Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor Association.

The organization is fighting to secure financial support for a new feasibility study that would re-evaluate the economic impact the completed four-lane highway could bring and what it would take to make the project a reality.

Work by the association comes at a critical time. As its members point out, during the past seven years, the oil and gas boom in our region has brought in more than $5 billion in private investment that has led to the creation of more than 9,500 jobs.

Those numbers show how much has changed since 2011, when a study conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation said completion of the corridor would create just 55 jobs.

It’s a route that is clearly needed. There is currently no four-line highway that directly connects Pittsburgh and Columbus. The best route that exists now is Interstate 70, but those heading from Pittsburgh must first drive 25 miles or so to their south along Interstate 79 before they are able to head west.

In addition, Interstate 70, in its present configuration, is nearing the limit on the amount of traffic it can handle.

While there’s no official designation yet, officials do know that by connecting various portions of U.S. Routes 250 and 36 and state Routes 161 and 16 with U.S. Route 22 and Interstate 270, a four-lane highway will be created that links Pittsburgh and Columbus.

Most of that work — 20.6 miles — is needed in Harrison County, with 15.3 miles needed in Tuscarawas County, 7.6 miles in Coshocton County and 3.6 miles in Muskingum County.

When completed, the corridor also would provide an easier way for traffic from the west to reach Interstate 79. That will come on the soon-to-be-completed portion of Interstate 576 that will connect Route 22 in Findlay Township with Interstate 79 near Bridgeville.

Members of the association recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to try and drum up federal support for the project. As Evan Scurti, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority and a corridor association member who made that trip, explained, the highway will unlock the full economic potential of Eastern Ohio.

That’s important for our area, and that’s why it’s time for state and federal officials to take a fresh look at the corridor association plans and make decisions based on today’s realities instead of a clearly outdated study that was conducted eight years ago.

It’s time to find a way to move forward and expedite that completion of the four-lane highway connecting Columbus and Pittsburgh.

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