A major joint project by the county of Highland and the city of Hillsboro is rapidly nearing completion, and it shows what can be accomplished when everybody works together.
As reported last week in The Times-Gazette, the new Hobart-Carl Smith Drive in Hillsboro is likely to open this fall, more than a year ahead of schedule. The project’s original targeted completion date was August 2016.
If the roadway does open by the time the leaves turn this year, it will be an achievement deserving of fanfare and trumpets. Most similar projects of this magnitude seldom meet their deadlines, let alone finish early, and especially as early as 10 months ahead of deadline.
County Engineer Dean Otworth credited the project’s contractor, the John R. Jurgensen Company, for the fast work in spite of unusually wet weather. In plain language, Otworth basically said the company’s crews simply worked hard, worked smart and worked fast. He said finishing the project early will save taxpayers money.
Good engineering played a big role in the speed with which the road has been built, along with good inspections – meaning inspectors have found very few problems with the work.
Since 2007, when Otworth first approached the Ohio Department of Transportation with the idea of improving the Hillsboro area’s transportation network, the project seemed to move at a snail’s pace. Hobart-Carl Smith Drive has been mentioned so often in meetings of county commissioners and Hillsboro City Council that most residents probably grew numb from hearing about it. It was a project that seemed forever on the horizon.
But in truth, behind the scenes work was going on all the time, particularly the arduous task of securing permits and right-of-ways. Such efforts are not always headline-grabbing, but they are necessary items to be completed before the first layer of earth can be moved.
Finally, beginning in 2012, everything seemed to kick into a higher gear. The county and the city began applying for and winning grants and a couple of zero-interest loans totaling about $7 million from the Ohio Department of Development, the Ohio Public Works Commission, the Appalachian Regional Commission, Hillsboro Tax Increment Financing funding, and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The largest single source of money was $2.2 million from ODOT’s Small Cities grant.
Rights were secured, relocation of water, gas, phone, cable and electric service lines was accomplished, and ground was broken in March of this year.
The development has required a high degree of communication and cooperation between the county and the city, and Otworth and Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin have often mentioned their mutual appreciation, one for the other, over the last couple of years as the project finally took shape.
The connector between U.S. 62 and SR 73 on the north side of town will help alleviate traffic congestion on North High Street and open up commercial property for more economic development around Hillsboro’s industrial park area. A side benefit will be allowing sheriff’s deputies to reach the western part of the county more quickly from the Highland County Justice Center.
It is difficult to believe that the new road won’t significantly reduce traffic congestion. It will. A big conversation point has been the innovative “roundabout” that will be part of the new road where it intersects with Careytown. As with anything new and unknown, the roundabout seems to be greeted in some quarters by fear and loathing. In fact, all evidence from existing roundabouts in Ohio and across the nation demonstrates that they are safer than traditional intersections.
When Otworth first pushed for the road eight years ago, then-county commissioners Rich Graves, Mike Rector and Gary Heaton were supportive, as were the Zink administration and the city council at the time, although Otworth says that while the city was all-in for the design portion of the project, some city leaders expressed reservations over ultimate costs and eminent domain issues. But deals were struck involving matching funds and grant and loan applications.
Subsequent administrations led by Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings and county commissioners Shane Wilkin, Tom Horst, Jeremy Shaffer and now Jeff Duncan have all supported the project.
Debbie Sansone, the mayor’s administrative assistant, has handled most of the paperwork for the city, and was likely helpful on the county side in her previous role as county commission clerk. The Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission, which seldom gets the credit it deserves, served its always-valuable role as a facilitator of government funding for the project.
But make no mistake, Hobart-Carl Smith Drive represents the vision and planning of Dean Otworth and the work of his staff, a fact reinforced by a statement from a top ODOT official earlier this year.
“This has been Highland County Engineer Dean Otworth’s project from the start, and he has worked very hard to make it happen,” said ODOT District 9 Deputy Director Vaughn Wilson in a press release. “Dean has always been a champion for his county and the people he serves, and we are pleased to be working with him on an important project that will help alleviate traffic congestion and improve mobility for the residents and motorists of Highland County.”
Otworth told The Times-Gazette last week that cooperation has been the key to success.
“I’d like to say thank you to the citizens for their patience during construction, to the property owners that helped and cooperated with the project, and the city of Hillsboro and other elected officials that have helped over the years,” Otworth said. “It’s been a team approach and I’ve been very appreciative of all their help.”
A team approach, definitely, but led by one man’s vision.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.