Nelsonville Bypass mcdavis

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis speaks to the importance of the Nelsonville Bypass

Photographer: Rebecca Miller

Nelsonville Bypass bat house

One of the bat houses in a Nelsonville Bypass culvert

Photographer: Rebecca Miller

Nelsonville Bypass sargand shad

Civil Engineering Professor Shad Sargand discusses his role in the Nelsonville Bypass project

Photographer: Rebecca Miller

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University plays major role in Nelsonville Bypass opening

Student and faculty work has saved ODOT more than $22 million


After 48 years of discussions, planning and construction, the $160 million, 8.5-mile U.S. 33 Nelsonville Bypass opened on Tuesday, Oct. 1, and Ohio University faculty, staff, students and alumni played a major role in bringing the project to fruition.

The two-lane road through the city of Nelsonville had become known for its bottleneck traffic at both ends of town and the high amount of accidents that occurred on it every year. From 2010 to 2012, there were 218 accidents on the stretch of road in Nelsonville.

The new bypass, which Ohio Department of Transportation officials said was first discussed in 1965, will drastically reduce the traffic in Nelsonville, most notably large truck traffic, which studies show had increased by 21 percent between 2009 and 2012.

The bypass is estimated to reduce the travel time between Athens and Columbus by approximately 20 minutes. ODOT officials said that since the 1980s, more than $330 million has been spent to upgrade the U.S. 33 corridor.

"Today, we keep yet another promise to the people of southeastern Ohio as we cut the ribbon on the final phase of the Nelsonville Bypass," said ODOT Director Jerry Wray during the highway's opening ceremony on Tuesday morning.

During the ceremony, Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis said he remembers the Nelsonville Bypass being discussed by then-Ohio University President Vern Alden while he was a student at Ohio University in the 1960s. The 90-year-old Alden was in the audience and helped cut the ceremonious ribbon toward the end of the press conference.

McDavis also discussed the significance of the project and its immediate impact on the University.

"From reduced commutes to improved safety, the bypass will benefit the Ohio University community in many ways," McDavis said. "The bypass opening is also very exciting on a personal level for me because I travel to Columbus as much as anyone. This is a special day."

McDavis also made reference to the research benefits the bypass project afforded about 12 Ohio University civil engineering graduate students, who worked on the project as part of the Ohio Research Institute for Transportation and the Environment (ORITE).

The students primarily worked under the tutelage of Ohio University Professor of Civil Engineering Shad Sargand, who also serves as director of ORITE.  

Also noted was the fact that 80 percent of the construction engineers working on the project were Ohio University Civil Engineering alumni. Ohio University Civil Engineering faculty, staff and students have saved ODOT more than $22 million in the past.

"This project has provided research funds to the university that have enabled us to transfer technology, serve our region and train undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on opportunities in our own backyard," McDavis said.

Sargand explained what role he and his students played in the project.

"We installed sensors to detect ground movement 100 feet below the surface, which will provide ODOT with an early warning of problems and allow for investigation and corrective action before these faults propagate to the surface and affect the pavement and other structures in the bypass," Sargand said. "These sites are continuously monitored and we will collect information on an ongoing basis during the life of the highway. We also installed additional sensors to detect movement in slopes and embankments, and other sensors to detect ground water levels."

Another important aspect of the project is the cutting edge wildlife and environmental mitigation techniques used on the approximately five-mile stretch of the bypass that bisects Wayne National Forest, the state's only national forest.

Wildlife friendly elements included: high mast lighting for bats, wildlife jump-outs for deer, a butterfly bridge, rattlesnake fencing and tunnels for safe crossings by wildlife.

The Nelsonville Bypass opening ceremony took place on a stretch of the new bypass and featured speeches by Wray, McDavis, ODOT District 10 Deputy Director Steve Williams, Wayne National Forest Supervisor Anne Carey and southeastern Ohio transportation advocate Kenner Bush.