“This is something we talk about every week and continually update," Balderson said. "We’ll stay updated with this project and watch what happens. We’re at the 50-50 mark now. The negotiations will go on. We won’t give up. We’re going to do our darndest to get this thing over the finish line.”
Funds could also come from the state's Transportation Review Advisory Council, the Licking County Area Transportation Study, the Licking County Transportation Improvement District, and the cities of Newark and Heath.
Balderson joined Newark Mayor Jeff Hall, Heath Mayor Mark Johns, Licking County Commissioners Rick Black, Tim Bubb and Duane Flowers, and Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority Executive Director Rick Platt for a viewing of the Showman Arch Bridge, built in 1833 to carry water for the Ohio & Erie Canal.
Balderson asked local officials if local residents are aware of the need to replace the bridge. Johns said probably not, unless they looked at the bridge from underneath, which the officials did.
"I’m sure very few people get this kind of perspective," Johns said. "Unless you really put your eyes on it and see that these stone columns are actually on wood. Unless you really see it for yourself, it’s kind of hard to have the perspective of just how badly this needs to be replaced.”
Bubb said the public is probably unaware, adding, “As long as you don’t get wet, the bridge is fine.”
The last vehicle counts showed the bridge carried about 4,200 vehicles per day in 2015, with about 10% of that truck traffic, according to Newark City Engineer Brian Morehead.
Flowers said it's important to make plans now to replace the bridge with an alternate route.
“Sooner or later it’ll be condemned, and then what do you do," Flowers said.
Thornwood Crossing will be extended from Cherry Valley Road to a proposed roundabout intersecting Reddington Road, Thornwood Drive and a relocated River Road. The new road will cross Raccoon Creek and the T.J. Evans Trail with a three-span, steel girder bridge. As part of the River Road relocation, the existing River Road-Thornwood Drive intersection will be closed.
The new roadway allows the city to abandon the section of Cherry Valley Road just north of Reddington Road, including a curve and the old bridge, where three semis have crashed, killing a driver in 2007. The last semi was traveling from Newark to New Albany. The bridge would remain, but the road would not be used by vehicles.
The two-year project, slated to start in 2023, would allow semis to travel from Ohio 16, exit onto Thornwood Crossing, travel the new roadway to Thornwood Drive, then a quarter-mile on Ridgely Tract Road, then Ohio 79 and Interstate 70.
"All that hooked together is a wonderful plan for a great north-south corridor, but it also opens up 300 acres for multi-use and a lot of good jobs and industry," Newark Mayor Jeff Hall said.
Platt said the route from Newark to Interstate 70 is the largest manufacturing corridor in central Ohio, including the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center and Mid-Ohio Industrial Park in Heath, and the Newark Ohio Industrial Park in Hebron and Union Township.
A letter signed by representatives of a dozen COATC employers to Hall stated, "A good portion of our workforce is already choosing this corridor for its commute. With the continued growth occurring here, it's important that the state-local roadway infrastructure keep up to proactively ensure safety improvements happen before it's too late."
COATC has 1,650 employees with a $127 million payroll.
Balderson said the project will increase employment, which should make it easy to support.
"The No. 1 reason I’m in office is to create jobs, and this is going to create jobs," Balderson said. "That’s the No. 1 seller to me and that’s not a hard sell.”
Hall said Packaging Corporation of America already plans to move from its site on South 21st Street to a larger facility on Thornwood Drive, between James Road and the railroad tracks, an area that would be more attractive for development. Hall said the city also plans to make improvements on the hill at West Main Street and Thornwood Drive.
"There are 300 acres that can be developed, but the roads aren’t quite adequate," Hall said.
The corridor would allow semis trying to reach Interstate 70 eastbound from the New Albany Personal Care and Beauty Campus at Ohio 161-Beech Road to avoid Ohio 310 through Pataskala, the hills on Ohio 37, the commercial section of Ohio 79 in Heath and Ohio 13 through Newark.
"The Beauty Park is going to keep growing," Hall said. "The trucks that roll out of there, if they’re going to roll east, where are they going? They’re coming to 37, which is OK for vehicular traffic. Those trucks roll down the hill fast and roll up the hill slow and have all these cars behind them. Years ago, it was fine, but now it’s getting overloaded too.”
Thornwood corridor timeline
Following are some of the improvements completed and planned for the goal of a Thornwood Drive/Ohio 79 corridor connecting Interstate 70 with Ohio 16.
July 2005: Ohio 79 widening. The $16 million widening of Ohio 79, from Enterprise Drive in Hebron to Irving Wick Drive in Heath, improves road from two lanes to four lanes, with a center turn lane.
November 2007: Ridgely Tract extension. A new two-lane connecting road between Ohio 79 and Thornwood Drive, opens. Beaver Run Road intersection with Ohio 79, which included a sharp, narrow curve underneath a railroad trestle, closes.
November 2016: Ohio 16/Thornwood Crossing interchange. The $31 million Ohio 16 partial cloverleaf interchange at Thornwood Crossing opens, allowing closure of the dangerous Ohio 16-Cherry Valley Road intersection and removal of the traffic signal.
Summer 2019: Thornwood Drive railroad crossing. Improvements made to the Thornwood Drive railroad crossing near the Heath-Newark line, at cost of $442,912. The dangerous hump in the road was eliminated.
About 2023-25: Thornwood Crossing-Thornwood Drive connection. The $15 million project includes a new bridge over Raccoon Creek, a new roundabout, and a direct connection from the Ohio 16-Thornwood Crossing interchange directly to Thornwood Drive, bypassing the old stone arch bridge and dangerous curve on Cherry Valley Road.