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EAST CANTON — The HOPE Development Committee heard an update on the Route 30 extension project from Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula during its meeting June 23.
An extension of the highway has been discussed almost since the completion of the original highway, but it had faded, only to be revisited in recent years, due in large part to the oil and gas industry blossoming in the region, with increased traffic that is boosting the local economy.
“One of my goals is to finish Route 30,” Regula told members of the committee.
Regula noted that the proposed extension would cover about 36 miles and connect a four-lane Route 30 with Route 11 near Lisbon.
Regula recounted a visit to the area four years ago by Gov. John Kasich. The governor became interested in the Route 30 discussion when it was noted the economic impact it could have for the region.
“Companies like Timken and Kenan Advantage can go west, they can go north or south, but they can’t go east,” Regula said. “This corridor would open up a whole new route for them to move their products.”
Area officials received some help from state lawmakers in their on-going effort to see the project through to completion.
House Bill 494, signed into law by Kasich in 2015, includes a provision that would allow commissioners in Stark County and nearby counties, with the approval of the Ohio Department of Transportation, to team with boards of commissioners in other counties to establish a regional transportation improvement project.
Regula said commissioners in Stark, Columbiana and Carroll counties have had discussions to form a Regional Transportation Improvement Project. They also have received support from State Rep. J. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township.
The next step is to show ODOT officials just how important the project is to the region.
Regula noted that local elected officials and business leaders have argued that the extension would provide a more direct access to the Pittsburgh area, boosting the local economy.
“If you really want to put this region on the map, finish Route 30,” he said.
Regula also explained that Stark County and its neighbors could also form Joint Economic Development Districts in the Route 30 corridor that could tax new development by the oil and gas industry and provide revenue for the Regional Transportation Improvement Project to repay the bonds sold to fund Route 30.
“We also have to consider the development at the Pro Football Hal of Fame. The Hall of Fame Village is going to happen and it is going to dramatically increase attendance there,” he said. “We need to have a route to the east for tourism.”
The last deep-water port on the Ohio River is near Lisbon and Regula noted that finishing Route 30 opens those routes up to local businesses and will spur more economic development in the area.
One sore spot is the fact that studies detailing the impact of a Route 30 extension, costing millions of dollars, are outdated and would have to be done all over.
Regula also noted that finishing the corridor has been a topic of discussion since the early days of his father’s congressional career in the 1970s. Regula is the son of iconic former U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre.
A key challenge will actually be having enough people to fill the jobs that will be created with the new development.
“It is the Lincoln Highway, a main artery for the United States,” Regula concluded. “We need to see it through to completion. We will see energy, chemicals and plastics look at this region for development.”
After Regula’s presentation, the committee received updates from its Business Development, Zoning, Housing and Utilities subcommittees.
Jeff Burner noted the Business Development panel hopes to survey area businesses to determine their needs.
The Zoning panel has met with township and village officials to discuss the process of making zoning changes.
Mary Sanders noted that some of the Zoning group’s efforts will be linked to the Housing and Utilities group.
Providing an update from the Housing subcommittee, Stephane Stubblefield noted that members of the group toured some area senior independent living facilities.
The group hopes to spark the development of a facility in the area for seniors, which ultimately could lead to available housing options in the area.
Stubblefield also noted the group has looked at potential properties in the area for such development.
Brenda Griffith noted the facilities are designed as independent living for seniors who no longer want to maintain a house or lawn.
Kris Vincent updated the group on the Utilities subcommittee and noted that zoning is going to be a valuable tool for the area.
Vincent noted the subcommittee has had discussions regarding water and sewer in the area.
The city of Louisville has expressed an interest in extending water to some northern portions of the village and township.
Water is a key and infrastructure would need to be developed. It could include five or six wells over a 39-acre area.
“The question then becomes how we do that,” Vincent added.
The cost of determining where to place wells could cost up to $25,000, though developers may be willing to assume the cost if they can see a need for a facility in the area.
Vincent noted that a Joint Economic Development District might be an option to facilitate extension and development of water utilities in the area.