Highlands Interchange Coming Along Slowly

WHEELING – The purpose of a new interchange at The Highlands might be to facilitate traffic flow, but for now progress on the project is moving slowly.

Ohio County commissioners plan to meet with state Division of Highways officials next month to review proposed plans for the project, and changes likely will be made.

In the interim, they are seeking more tenants for the additional areas at The Highlands now included in the county’s Tax Increment Financing district approved by the Legislature earlier this year. These retailers would provide extra sales tax revenue that would help fund the project.

TIF is a tool that allows local governments to borrow money by selling bonds for development projects in a defined district, then using future sales tax generated through the development to pay off the bonds.

“We’ve made a little bit of progress, and we’re working with the state to formulate the initial steps,” said Commissioner Randy Wharton, also president of the Ohio County Development Authority. “The county has already spent money on the preliminary design work. We’re planning on getting together with the Department of Highways in the next month or so, and moving forward on finalizing design and setting everything in order to finish the design.”

Wharton said the county also is close to securing new tenants for The Highlands whose tax revenue would be helpful to funding the project.

“We’re working on a couple of tenants, one of which would be reasonably large to move financing along,” he said. “From the county’s aspect, bring in more tenants to help defray costs.

“The county has done preliminary design. But what we originally had designed – and what the state is probably going to want to do – is going to change anyway.”

Earlier this year, the legislature approved a bill to expand the Tax Incremental Financing District at The Highlands from 300 to 500 acres.

Much of this district is in the area west of the Power Center area, and is yet to be developed.

Commissioner Tim McCormick said the meetings with Department of Highways serve the purpose of informing the county of what they can and can’t do on the project.

“We’re still working on it,” he said “We need to seek out new tenants in new TIF areas, and are doing so actively. … Government works very slowly – that’s just he way things are. More meetings will follow with the Department of Highways, and obviously the sooner the better. We’ve learned our lessons. … (There are) a few nice things coming to the The Highlands in the next couple of months.”