On Tuesday morning, employees at El Acapulco pour salsa into jars, preparing to open at 11 a.m. Owner José Banderas says all the construction has caused business at this Mexican restaurant, just off of US-23, to decline in recent years.
“My sales went down like 50 percent in the last five years,” Banderas says.
He blames the North Side Mega Fix for that. Banderas says he’s seen several businesses in the I-270/US-23/OH-315 corridor close their doors.
“We had serious issues with the construction here, the last five years,” Banderas says. “It’s damaged all the local business.”
Now, as the holiday travel season begins, the years-long construction process on Columbus’ North Side is finally over. All the ramps in the North Side Mega Fix opened Tuesday morning, and both local residents and stores are relieved – and happy with the results.
“I’m really impressed myself,” Banderas says. “I live across the street on the other side of the project. The city needs this kind of upgraded. I’m so glad they done.”
Ramps connecting I-270 and US-23 were supposed to open Saturday, but were delayed by weather. Instead, they opened just before 5 a.m. on Tuesday.
“It’s been four years of orange barrels, so major milestone,” says Nancy Burton, of the Ohio Department of Transportation. “These were the last two remaining ramps to open.”
Burton observed the opening with coworkers.
“We were out there this morning,” Burton says. “Tt was early, a little before rush hour: 7, 7:30, 8. Although that’s still considered rush hour, traffic was moving. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen, I mean, there wasn’t a sea of red light of backs of people’s cars because they were stuck in traffic.”
Done in three stages, the Mega Fix took four years and about $148 million to complete. The major interchange reconstruction included ramps for I-270 and US-23, and I-270 and OH-315.
“The challenge was we couldn’t build up and build a bunch of flyover ramps,” Burton says. “It’s not what the community wanted. We couldn’t build out. That wasn’t affordable, really, with all the real estate that’s up there. So the only thing was to go down, or sort of braid and weave.”
As well as being quicker for commuters, the project should also help make the interchange safer. Edward Johnston used to patrol the area for the Sharon Township Police Department.
“So firsthand, I actually dealt with fatalities as well as the accidents,” Johnston says. “At one time, this 270-23 corridor was like number three or four with the number of accidents and also deaths.”
ODOT identified the section of I-270 between Route 315 and I-71 as the fourth-most-congested and high-crash area in the state.
“With the years of research and determining what the best route was in reconstructing the roadways, this is the best direction we’ve ever gone in a number of decades,” Johnston says.
Changes also include new ramps and lanes, for the up to 175,000 vehicles that pass through the area per day.
“The drivers are to be commended for putting up with so much while we did this,” Burton says. “It was a lot, it was painful, it was inconvenient. But what we got in return was a safer, more efficient interchanges that will move a lot more vehicles safely.”
Of course, not everything is finished. ODOT still needs to finish paving I-270 between OH-315 and US-23, plus part of OH-315 near I-270.
“The final paving won’t happen ‘til next year, so I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, this is what the pavement’s gonna look like?’ Burton says “But the last two ramps, that’s the big deal, that the major things we set out to do are open.”