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* News Release *
Sunday, September 23, 2001
For Immediate Release

Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens responds to
the Middletown Journal's September 2 editorial
Ohio 63 Extension Too Important To Let Drop

The Middletown Journal's position that the State Route 63 Extension is a critical undertaking is one with which I fully agree. This is a very important project to Butler County. Therefore, I believe it is necessary to respond with accurate information to the Middletown Journal's recent editorial Ohio 63 Extension Too Important To Drop. Reports of the project being "on-again, off-again" are incorrect and have clouded the real issues, resulting in confusion among the public. Inaccurate editorials however well intended can sometimes hurt a project rather than help it.

Let me emphatically state that I am not attempting to "kill this project" as suggested by the editorial. With backing from the Trenton Area Access Committee (TAAC), the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), and help from many dedicated citizens, I have worked hard to move the proposed State Route 63 Extension forward. This is an ambitious pursuit for which there has been overwhelmingly positive support. The County Engineer's Office strongly advocates the project and appreciates the encouragement of those who also believe it is a necessary and worthwhile investment in Butler County's future.

Early studies considered every possible alignment within the S.R. 63 study corridor, including one through the LeSourdsville subdivision. This is not unusual for the initial stage of all major projects. It is through subsequent detailed studies and public involvement that we determined the infeasibility of displacing the entire neighborhood -- a task that is not as simple as the Journal's editorial would have its readers believe. Moreover, as a result of our successful citizen input process local residents had the opportunity to express that relocation was not their desire.

An alignment north of the LeSourdsville area was presented as the preferred alternative at a December 2000 public meeting, before I took office. This was simply another step in refining the alignment and is not what drove the cost estimate up. The original projection of $47 million to construct the S.R. 63 Extension was based on very early data and did not yet include any public input. In the road building business the most feasible plan is not necessarily the one with which you first begin. There are many factors that once studied can contribute to cost differences in a project's development -- public input, design and engineering factors, access and interchanges, number of lanes, field studies, environmental impact minimization, wetlands, and stream crossings. The process we've gone through considers all of these factors when shaping the best plan. Details involving these important issues were not fully developed when the original estimate was generated. The new cost figure was developed in response to local feedback from citizens and businesses to keep this important project alive.

The Commissioners, in a letter dated August 17, 2001, ordered that preliminary engineering be halted on the project due to funding concerns. This letter managed to find its way to the media before it arrived at my office, thus precluding any efforts to clear up the Commissioners' misunderstanding of the monthly engineering costs. To make matters worse, the reporter from the Middletown Journal did not contact me for comment or clarification on any of the issues raised in the letter. It is important to understand that funding for the project's engineering has been coming out of the Engineer's budget, not the Commissioner's. The average monthly cost has been $60,000 a month, not the erroneously reported $200,000 figure that has needlessly cast doubt and confusion on the project's status. If I was "trying to kill the project" as suggested by the Middletown Journal, I could have very easily stopped issuing checks for work associated with the project. Instead, with quiet resolve, my staff and I have worked countless hours on planning, engineering, and interacting with concerned citizens.

Public involvement and preliminary engineering are critical steps in the road building process, yet adequate funding is ultimately the key to construction. This year we intend to seek additional federal funds made available through the ODOT's Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC). The State has assured us that the $27 million grant for the S.R. 63 endeavor is in tact. We are now looking at a plan to apply this to the western segment first because it addresses the most severe safety problems. The western portion refers to the section from Wayne Madison Road to U.S. 127, not all the way to Oxford as frequently misreported. Transportation issues in northwest Butler County are part of a separate study.

The Butler County Engineer's Office worked in conjunction with ODOT to apply the process of Value Engineering to the State Route 63 Extension this year in an effort to make it economically feasible for the State's TRAC committee. This process did not effect the alignment but may have some impact on the highway's access points. I remain confident that Butler County will be in a very competitive position to secure TRAC dollars provided the Commissioners can fund the purchases of right-of-way and construction match money for the eastern portion.

As your new County Engineer, I am committed to the safety of our citizens while supporting the continued growth of Butler County's strong local economy. The S.R. 63 Extension makes sense and we will support its most feasible location while being sensitive to the surrounding environment. We have worked very hard to ensure that the final preferred alignment meets with as much local approval as possible and are dedicated to doing what's best for the County as a whole. We have put together what I believe is a solid plan for implementing this critical project. ODOT has been a valuable and constructive partner in the process as have our local citizens and agencies. Fortunately, Butler County has a strong recent history of regional cooperation and innovation for transportation planning, financing, and construction. I believe that this pro-active approach will continue to yield major results for us in the future.

# # #

For more information contact:

Chris Petrocy, Public Information Supervisor
Greg Wilkens, P.E., P.S., Butler County Engineer
Phone 513.867.5744 • Fax 513.867.5849

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