How many times over the last year have you heard someone referring to the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, with – “I have never seen anything go up that fast.” Over the last several days, the Daily Times has been covering the residual effects the project has created with manufacturing increasing, development on the upswing and a seemingly bright future, but what exactly is the progress of the project itself?
The Times talked with the spokeswoman for District 9 of the Ohio Department of Transportation, Kathleen Fuller about where the project stands time wise.
“It’s coming very well,” Fuller said. “We’ve moved more than half of the earth of the 20 million cubic yards, so that’s good news. This is well on target with the project schedule. There’s a lot of bridge construction taking place.”
Will the winter months hamper the progress?
“There will not be a winter shutdown,” Fuller said. “Although winter does affect the work schedule a little bit at times, we have been really fortunate that this winter has been pretty mild. We’ve had a lot of rain though and that’s the hard part when you are moving earth and the ground is saturated. That does make it a little more challenging.”
Will there be a change in work schedules in the cold weather?
“During the winter months the crews are working,” Fuller said. “We still have a heavy force going every day and a lot of bridge construction taking place. We’ve got 22 bridges to build, and, of course they’re doing a lot of work around the (Ohio) 140 interchange in the segment 1 and 2 A area which is the south end of the project. There’s a lot of work going on off of (Ohio) 335 and (Ohio) 139 and the (Ohio) 140 construction of the bridge through there.”
Just as people like Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA) director Jason Kester, Stan Jennings, superintendent of the Scioto County Career Technical Center (SCCTA) and Scioto County Commission Chairman Bryan Davis have told the Times this week, the project has opened up multiple possibilities for growth, and Fuller agrees.
“My understanding from Jason and others is that they’re already seeing this happen through the corridor,” Fuller said. “That’s a testament the the project and how important it really is. We’re pleased that it’s already taking place. The project is not finished but we have development and interest in development.”
Has that always been a factor in bringing the project to fruition?
“When we started talking about this project 15, 16, 17 years ago, one of the things we talked about was opening up certain areas throughout that corridor for potential development,” Fuller said. “Obviously there’s the airport area. There’s utility work like sewer line installations for the county. That’s a big undertaking there to have that area ready to go. That’s prime real estate through there and, of course, the proximity to the airport is wonderful.”
How about the jobs benefit?
“More than 80 percent of the people working on this project are l0cal people,” Fuller said. “They’re from this area. They’re from the Scioto County, Pike County, Jackson County area, so a tremendous component of the workforce is people right from Scioto County. So a lot of people are being put to work.”
One of the lingering questions is, will the highway, known as a bypass to some, have an adverse effect on the city of Portsmouth?
“John Clark Oil just built a $3 million gas station on (U.S.) 52 and Speedway announced plans to build a $2-$3 million gas station across the street from it,” Kester said. “They don’t appear to be super worried. I don’t really know how traffic on 52 affects Vandervorts, Bihl Office Supply, the banks downtown. I think it will have an impact but I don’t think it will be a drastic one. I think it will be outweighed by the positive benefits around us.”
Portsmouth First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson agrees with Kester.
“Bottom line for Portsmouth, and that is where my concern always is, being on city council, anything that benefits the county is going to benefit Portsmouth,” Johnson said. “In fact I’ll expand that further – anything that benefits Adams, Jackson, Lawrence and Pike County, benefits Portsmouth.”
Johnson said he looks at Portsmouth’s economic growth and vitality in a larger sense.
“People who work at the Piketon plant live here,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of people that work in Lawrence County who live here. We’re not a metropolitan area by any stretch of the imagination, but people like our downtown. They like coming down to Second Street. They like our new restaurants that are opening up. They like the shops, and hopefully, more and more entrepreneurs will be opening up small businesses in Portsmouth that will be drawing even more people.”
Johnson touted the future inter modal uses of the area’s roadways and waterways as well as the increased activity in the area’s railroad facilities.
“There’s a number of properties that are being bought up. People are looking at that entire area, in addition to around the airport, and it is opening up a part of the county that we have never been able to really get to,” Johnson said. “Our roads system bumps into that and into Minford and even into the airport. Now it’s easy to get into that area.”
Johnson summed up what the new highway means to the area as a whole.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be an incredible economic benefit for Scioto County and the area,” Johnson said. “One of the things we have in the community as far as future planning is Jason Kester himself. At this point I can’t imagine a lot of these things happening without his leadership.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.