Portsmouth Bypass closer to reality

March 14, 2013

Wayne Allen

PDT Staff Writer

On Thursday, March 7 a meeting was held with area officials and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) about the proposed Portsmouth Bypass (Ohio 823). According to ODOT officials, the meeting was held to update community leaders about ongoing efforts to make the bypass a reality.

“What the discussion was, right now the bypass is estimated to cost $500 million to construct. They (ODOT) have about $120 million in a savings account for construction of this road,” said Todd Book, Scioto County Economic Development Interim Director. “They’re adding about $20 million a year. If you do the math, it would be quite a ways down the road before there is enough money to build the road.”

He said the proposal from ODOT that is being considered will be a Public-Private Partnership for the construction of the bypass.

“The idea is that they (ODOT) would hire a construction company to design, build and maintain this road for about a 35-year period,” Book said. “In return for doing this, the company would receive an annual payment for that service. The bypass is only 16 miles, the thought was that’s not going to be enough for a company to set up an operation to maintain 16 miles of roadway. So, what the state is considering, is to give this private company the responsibility of maintaining not only the bypass, but also maintaining all state and U.S. Highways within the county.”

He said, in essence what would happen is the state garage in Scioto County, would go away.

Book said if this were to happen, the 28 ODOT employees at the Scioto County Garage would be offered other jobs within ODOT District 9.

“The benefit of this happening is that the construction of the bypass could begin in about one year. The idea is that we could have a completed bypass in about a five-year period,” Book said.

Book said if ODOT would give a private contractor a maintenance and improvement contract for state and federal roadways this would be one of the first in the state.

He said the construction of the Portsmouth Bypass could be a good thing for the community, in terms of economic development.

“If the bypass happens, we’re opening up thousands of acres of property in the county that’s really unused, other than farming, for economic development activity,” Book said. “There has been a argument for years if this is a good idea or not. From an economic development stand point, the bypass is a good thing.”

For years ODOT has said the bypass would be constructed in three phases and as funding becomes available.

Phase 1 of the construction will be from Shumway Hollow Road to Lucasville Minford Road and is slated to cost an estimated $83 million with a time frame of three years to complete.

Phase 2 of the construction has a five-year time frame for completion. Construction is set to begin at Lucasville Minford Road to U.S. 23 and is expected to cost an estimated $242 million.

Phase 3 is estimated to begin construction in 2017. Construction is slated for Shumway Hollow Road to U.S. 52. This phase is expected to cost $281 million.

The construction cost is an estimated $405 million. The grand total project cost is roughly estimated at more than $650 million.

“This (Portsmouth Bypass) is a big project and we don’t want the mayor and others to find out how we are proceeding with the project in the newspaper. We want to be able to have conversations with them, about this project,” said Steve Faulkner, ODOT Press Secretary. “What we know today is that if we utilized the status quo way of doing things, there is not enough money to fund the entire project. If we consider outside-the-box thinking, then we’re going to have a much better chance at getting something complete much sooner.”

Faulkner said as an agency, ODOT has some money ready to go and has completely funded Phase 1.

“It’s those two subsequent phases that we are scratching our heads about saying, ‘how are we going to get this done?’ Because we don’t have the money now and we’re not going to have the money in the next couple of decades,” Faulkner said.

The Portsmouth Bypass has been the topic of discussion for a number of years throughout the community and ODOT. When asked what the reality is of this project get done, Faulkner said, “good.”

“We could do what previous administrations have done and kind of stick our head in the sand and make these false promises. That’s not what we’re interesting in doing,” Faulkner said.

When it comes to the idea of letting the private company that builds and maintains the bypass also maintain all state and federal roadways within the county, Faulkner said that plan was not out of the realm of possibilities and that all options are being considered.

“We want to make sure we consider every viable option to build this project in Scioto County, saving dollars and putting Sciotoans to work building the project and making sure it gets done,” Faulkner said.

According to an informational flyer produced by ODOT about the Portsmouth Bypass, the scope of work for the project would include the expansion of O&M (operation and management) to include other state maintained routes within Scioto County, capital maintenance only.

Also on the flyer is a section about the key PPP (Public, Private Partnership) benefits. Those include accelerating delivery of project and benefits by eight years, leveraging $120 million Appalachian Development Highway System funds, deferring project payments until construction is complete, freeing ODOT budget capacity to deliver other near-term projects and maximizing schedule and pricing certainty.

For more information about the bypass, visit www.portsmouthbypass.com or call 888-819-8501, ext. 774-8834.

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or tallen@civitasmedia.com.