The entire plan is weather contingent, noted Ohio Department of Transportation District 9 spokesperson Kathleen Fuller.
But in comments to the Daily Times on Wednesday, Fuller said ODOT intends to move forward with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the long talked about Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, or State Route 823, long known as the Portsmouth Bypass.
Fuller said the ribbon-cutting ceremony is tentatively set for 1:30 p.m., Dec. 13 at Sunshine Church of Christ, 34 Barklow Rd., Portsmouth.
Again, depending on the cooperation of the weather, at 2:30 p.m., following the ribbon-cutting, Fuller said officials plan for a sort of parade of antique or classic muscle cars to be the first private vehicles to drive down the new highway. Fuller said participants must have special license plates designating their vehicles as historical.
In addition to the classic cars, Fuller said, appropriately enough given the formal name of the highway, several local veterans motorcycle groups have been invited to participate in the first drive down the bypass. One veteran group has promised to supply a vintage Jeep for the occasion, Fuller added.
The first cars to travel down Veterans Memorial Highway will access SR 823 from State Route 335 near the Scioto County Airport. Fuller said the group will travel from there to U.S. 23 and back again.
Fuller specifically added the new highway will not open to the public Dec. 13. The exact opening day still has yet to be decided upon, Fuller stated. She has said previously the highway will see “substantial completion” by Dec. 14, the date specified for completion of the roadway according to the contract with its private builders.
“A lot of different things are in motion, a lot of different things are in play right now,” Fuller added Wednesday. She also said more finalized details may be available next week.
Stretching 16 miles and connecting U.S. 52 to U.S. 23 north of Lucasville, the $634 million project is the first ever public/private road enterprise built in Ohio.
In the past, Fuller said the next big step in the highway project is for roadway builders the Portsmouth Gateway Group to turn the freeway over to ODOT.
At that point, the spokeswoman said officials will begin to “cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s” on the complicated and presumably plentiful paperwork connected with the project. Officials also will inspect the highway to ensure it is ready for 70 mph traffic.
Even when the bypass is completed, the Gateway Group will, for 35 years, be responsible for the upkeep of the road. They will be paid what Fuller called annual “availability payments” as long as the highway remains in good condition. ODOT only will be responsible for removal of ice and snow.
Fuller said previously once the bypass is complete, District 9 has no further big projects on the table at this time. She said there are no current plans to address any perceived congestion on U.S. 23 between Portsmouth and Columbus. She added District 9 previously took steps to relieve chokepoints on the roadway around Waverley and Piketon. She also said officials believe the bypass addresses the biggest remaining chokepoints along U.S. 23.