Local leaders are unsure about the bypass’ economic effect on downtown Wilmington, but say traffic congestion there is less and the highway helps market the air park.
One of the chief purposes of the bypass was to reduce traffic congestion, particularly truck traffic, in downtown Wilmington, stated an Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) fact sheet in 2011. The four-lane bypass opened for traffic in November 2011, and this News Journal two-year anniversary report explores the effects to date.
Main Street Wilmington Executive Director Steve Brown said traffic congestion downtown is “much less” than a few years ago. But at the same time, there remain — happily for his part — a lot of vehicles and motorists in the town’s heart.
He said he’s seen studies where a bypass has “just killed a downtown,” but he feels downtown Wilmington in contrast has “maintained” itself, especially in light of an ongoing economic downturn. The 3 to 5 percent vacancy rate there is about the same as before the bypass, he said.
Brown added, though, that in his mind, the effect of the bypass on downtown business is “inconclusive.”
It is, however, “much more pleasant to walk and drive downtown, east and west.”
While truck and commuter traffic has been reduced east-west, truck traffic and truck noise going north-south is the same and perhaps even increased, Brown said.
Wilmington Director of Public Service Larry Reinsmith agreed that north-south truck traffic may have “picked up a little” through Wilmington, while the expected drop in east-west truck travel through town has occurred.
He thinks the explanation for a north-south increase may be that some truckers taking the bypass get off at the bypass’ U.S. 68 exit and then come through town.
Brown said the bypass “definitely has made the downtown more pedestrian-friendly, at least going east and west. It’s easier to talk on the street now east and west.”
In fact, a quieter east-west corridor has enabled Main Street Wilmington to start installing a downtown sound system to daily “add ambient music” to the area, something it was “way too noisy” to do pre-bypass, he said.
The seasonal or themed music targets people who are shopping or eating downtown at one of the five eateries, said Brown.
In the talking stage now is the possibility of angled parking downtown, an option the bypass has opened up, he said.
Books ‘N’ More Manager Dan Stewart said it’s hard to say how much the bypass has impacted the store. He said a still-sluggish economy and the increasing popularity of e-books clearly are factors hurting the local book store.
At Wilmington’s east-end concentration of retail on Rombach Avenue, Number One China Buffet owner Billy Kong said he thinks the bypass has affected his restaurant business to some extent due to not having as much through traffic on Rombach.
“It’s not helping. But a lot of it has to do with the air park [with thousands of lost jobs]. Five years ago [when DHL said it would end air park operations], there’s been a big difference,” Kong said.
Dennis Garrison, president of Melvin Stone Company located a few miles east of Wilmington, said the bypass has “been a positive thing for us.”
A “fairly significant” part of Melvin Stone’s projects are in Warren and Hamilton counties, and the bypass has allowed for “better round-trip times” and more efficient use of the firm’s trucking resources, said Garrison.
He added that though the company never got a lot of complaints, he’s sure “the motoring public is glad every day” that truck traffic has been diverted from Wilmington.
In a traffic count performed by ODOT, more vehicles used the Wilmington bypass’ eastbound lanes than the westbound route.
During a 24-hour time period in 2012, there were 5,900 vehicles, of which 550 were trucks, heading east on the bypass, an ODOT spokesperson said. There were 4,990 vehicles, of which 430 were trucks, going west on the bypass.
The ATV and off-road utility vehicle company Polaris acquired two buildings near the air park this year to increase its capabilities for distribution, including parts, garments and accessories.
Paul Eickhoff, Polaris’ director of North American distribution, said Monday the company looked at the bypass as “part of the whole package” of reasons to locate in Wilmington. He said he doesn’t know whether the bypass would make the top five reasons, but it was “looked at.”
Eickhoff added an alternate site in Indiana was a long way from the Interstate highway system, which concerned the company.
Clinton County Business Development Director Bret Dixon said Monday officials currently are “looking at other ways of the bypass benefiting companies like TimberTech.”
The 7.5-mile bypass project, costing $76.9 million, relocated State Route 73 to north of the city of Wilmington. The timing for building a bypass was put on a faster track as part of Ohio’s incentive package in 2004 to induce DHL to locate in Wilmington rather than northern Kentucky.
Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley said some people thought the need for a bypass left when DHL left, but he disagrees.
“We needed it probably more after DHL left, as an incentive,” the mayor said.
Jones Lang LaSalle Senior Associate David Lotterer seeks to secure tenants for the air park.
“I think the biggest impact, more so than me saying it because I say a lot of things, is when they drive in, people are amazed how easy it is to get in and out of the air park, and that was not the case before the bypass opened. We had people getting lost, had people being late for their meeting,” Lotterer said.
The ability to get goods in and out is critical to the airport and to the air park, added Lotterer.
Clinton County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Christian Schock said in 2014 the organization will update the land-use plan for Wilmington and the surrounding Union Township.
“We will talk about land uses along the bypass — what future land uses might be appropriate there on the corridor. It will be the first real update of the land-use plan since the bypass was built,” said Schock.
The community planner suggested the bypass, in terms of economic benefits, wasn’t necessarily expected to have a great deal of impact right away but rather is “more of a foundation for future growth at the air park and for growth along that corridor.”
As noted two years ago by then-Mayor David Raizk, taking weighty truck traffic off a street saves the city money by lengthening the maintenance intervals on the asphalt.
To watch a video of the bypass dedication ceremony from our archives, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRnrUx-jFvU.