ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The I-70 extension project has seen some progress and some delays, but the issues stands to be resolved this year.
The area was chosen by the developer. The Stein family owns the property and has been working to develop this property since 1999. Subsequently, the Cafaros have also chosen to develop their property located directly behind the mall. Commissioner Ginny Favede noted that Belmont County's prominence as a regional retail center, notably in the vicinity of St. Clairsville along I-70, has been bolstered by reinventing and reinvesting in the area's mix of retail, entertainment, and service establishments.
The City of St. Clairsville received a $6.9 million federal earmark from former Congressman Bob Ney to be used specifically to construct an interchange or other appropriate access to I-70. The county made the decision to aid this development by working to see the road built to open up this prime retail land for potential development.
"The project has changed dramatically since its inception and does not even remotely resemble what was first planned," Favede said, noting the original design was a $50 million braided diamond interchange that addressed the exits at both Route 9 and Banfield Road, as well as additional exits ramps between exits 218 and 216.
"We were convinced that building this road and ramp would open up this property for development and put our county back on the road to recovery. Over the past few years, Belmont County has experienced a rebirth and our retail has ignited once again. There is tremendous growth and development. We were successful in getting ODOT back on the project when we finally committed county dollars toward the project," Favede said.
She added that funding remains the reason for delay.
"I am hopeful that we will see a financial commitment from the State of Ohio in May following TRAC application review that will allow a fully funded project," she said.
"That is our retail base. Our tax base goes up if that goes up," said Commissioner Matt Coffland, adding that the Cafaro Company and Equity both are working toward the development. Coffland added that motels, retail and other facilities such as restaurants and living quarters could be established on both sides.
He said new hotels and a retail base could come to the south side of the interstate. On the north side, a possible medical complex and wellness complex, retail and senior living complex are planned.
"It was chosen because that is our retail hub. It's centrally-located on 70 and the last stronghold before leaving the state of Ohio. We try to get travelers to stop before leaving the state of Ohio."
Coffland said while the project had been going nowhere for many years, entities such as the Transportation Improvement District have worked to move the project forward. Coffland noted that ODOT has seen local participation, making the project more likely.
"ODOT is happy with the local investment the two developers brought to the table, and improvement and safety issues. Those were the three main things," he said.
He said that the influx of oil and gas interests is another factor in moving the road project.
"It is more urgent now than before because the county is growing. Accommodating the influx of oil and gas is part of it. This will expand it," he said. "It's a good investment back into our county."
"Economic development in our county is always viewed as urgent. We work every day to see our county grow and to provide jobs for our residents," said Favede, adding that she hopes the county may apply for TRAC funding to acquire the remaining money, totaling nearly $10 million, needed to fund the entire project. "Once we have this commitment and funding in place we will begin construction on the road and overpass."
DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@time sleader online.com.