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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Counties seek ways to attract industry

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - After decades of waiting for the state to widen U.S. 30 from a two-lane to a four-lane highway, officials in several northwest Ohio counties want to see how they might work together to entice industrial development along the east-west corridor.

Representatives of six counties met in Findlay yesterday to talk about the possibilities for the rural highway, though their ideas may not come to fruition for 20 years or more.

"It's taken I-75 some 40 or 50 years to develop to where it currently is," Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold said.

"If we can develop something jointly and use that leverage, multiple jurisdictions would have to encourage economic development - even if we could push that to 25 or 30 years, he said.

"I don't expect anything in the next five years," he added.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is in the process of widening the highway, which is two lanes in some spots and four lanes in others.

The widening plans actually date to the 1960s, when improvements were sought because the highway had heavy truck traffic and a high number of injury accidents and fatalities.

In northwest Ohio, ODOT widened seven miles from Bea-verdam in Allen County to State Rt. 235 in Hancock County in 1999, and completed an 11.1-mile stretch from the Upper Sandusky bypass in Wyandot County to the Bucyrus bypass in Crawford County in 2004.

Now under construction is a 26-mile stretch from State Rt. 235 to the Upper Sandusky bypass. Work on the $98.8 million project is expected to be completed in late 2007.

Mr. Ingold said though development along I-75 has focused on industries related to automotive manufacturing and retail distribution, he believes the four-lane U.S. 30 will connect the area to new commercial opportunities, including pharmaceuticals to the east and aerospace and transportation to the west.

He said U.S. 30 offers access to large undeveloped parcels - something that's tougher to come by on developed routes like I-75. The biggest immediate hindrance to development will be the lack of water and sewer services to the rural areas through which U.S. 30 passes.

Jerry Brems, director of the Licking County Planning Department, spoke to the group about joint efforts made in his rural county east of Columbus to attract development along I-70.

He said getting water and sewer as well as roadway networks to key areas along the highway are "critical" to enticing companies to locate there. They also are expensive, he said.

"The mantra in real estate is location, location, location, and being on an interstate is great. But without infrastructure, location really doesn't mean a great deal," he said.

Mr. Brems recommended officials begin doing their homework now on everything from utilities to rail access. He outlined a number of programs in place to assist with development efforts, but suggested they work as a region and try some "nontraditional" methods.

"Identify one or two new interchanges along I-30 that are most likely from a market perspective to develop quickly," he said. "Pool your resources to get the infrastructure in place, share the revenues from it, and use that to support additional locations."

The group agreed to continue the dialogue started yesterday.

"My sense is this is a process of long-range viewing of possibilities for our larger community," Allen County Commissioner Sam Bassitt said.

Charles Brunkhart, administrator of the Hardin County village of Forest which is situated less than a mile south of U.S. 30, said he was encouraged by talk of regional cooperation. Forest, a village of 1,488 people, had gotten permission from ODOT to install a casing underneath the new highway so that it eventually could extend water and sewer lines to the north side of U.S. 30, but it does not have the money to pay for the project.

"We've been waiting for this to come about for years and I've been doing all this planning, but we don't have any money," he said. "I'm totally interested in this happening."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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