FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — Concerns over expanding U.S. 23 from Franklin County to Waldo in Marion County created so much public outcry that the Ohio Department of Transportation added two additional public hearings.
Wednesday night at the Delaware County Fairgrounds was the first of two meetings planned for the month.
Among those who attended was Shelly Lehner of Radnor who said if ODOT were to shift U.S. 23 to the west it would take out her home, farmland and banquet facility.
She wrote ODOT saying “It surprised me that you would consider spending billions of dollars to ruin and destroy people’s businesses, their livelihoods, their hopes, their dreams, just so someone can get from one place 15 or 20 minutes faster."
U.S. 23 from Franklin County north is no longer the tiny scenic road it once was.
Today, it’s a major connector for trucking that stretches from central Ohio to Michigan.
It also cuts through pristine farmland and those who rely on that land have posted signs telling ODOT not to cut through their farmland.
“I could rebuild a home, I could never replace the farmland,” Lehner said.
ODOT says U.S. 23 needs to expand.
“Right now 23 is about 30 percent over capacity so what we're seeing is trucks coming from Michigan and Toledo and even further north are running into this bottleneck in central Ohio,” said Breanna Badanes, spokesperson for ODOT Delaware County District 6.
ODOT said with Delaware County expected to add more than 85,000 new residents before 2040, and Columbus expected to grow by more than 1 million people during the same time frame, traffic congestion on U.S. 23 will only increase.
Eliminating 38 traffic signals between Franklin County and Waldo would also help traffic flow, according to ODOT.
For people like Lehner, she would like to see U.S. 23 expanded along its current path and not encroach on anyone's farmland.
"Route 23 to me is like a Route 66. It's a beautiful historic route,” she said.
ODOT says in the event land would be taken to expand U.S. 23, it would pay fair market value for it.
ODOT hopes to choose a plan by the end of this year and will have another round of public meetings to discuss it.
The state says there’s no budget for the U.S. 23 expansion or a construction date set.
The next public hearing will occur on Jan. 27 at noon. That meeting will be virtual.
You can learn more about the project here.