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Springfield leaders reject Bechtle Avenue roundabout

Community opposition too great to move forward, commissioners say.

Springfield leaders rejected a proposed roundabout at one of the busiest intersections in the city after months of public outcry.

Springfield city commissioners voted unanimously against the controversial $679,000 project at Tuesday’s meeting, citing substantial opposition to a traffic circle at Bechtle Avenue and the St. Paris Connector.

The project would have been the first true roundabout in Springfield.

While Mayor Warren Copeland and City Commissioner Karen Duncan both expressed support for the roundabout, both said voting for it would go against community wishes.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to have roundabouts in Springfield as will the rest of the state and the country,” Copeland said. “I’m not sure this is the one to start with.”

City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill — who has spoken out against the project since it was first proposed — thanked Springfield residents for continuing to express their opposition.

“You told me ‘No’, and I pushed it,” O’Neill said.

Transportation officials believe the roundabout would reduce injury and fatal traffic crashes, and improve traffic flow and air quality.

However, residents fought against the proposed plan. Many believe the roundabout will confuse drivers and lead to more accidents. More than 1,200 signatures were collected for a petition to stop the roundabout project.

During a three-year period, there have been seven crashes — including one fatality and one injury — at the Bechtle Avenue intersection. In 2015, there were three crashes at the intersection, according to Springfield Police statistics, and another injury accident occurred there last week.

The Ohio Department of Transportation approved the project last year. It would have been paid for through federal funds that can be used for other eligible projects, but not to pave neighborhood streets.

The developer of the Hobby Lobby shopping center north of Walmart will now have to pay for the installation of a permanent traffic signal.

Earlier this year, city commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the $187,000 engineering contract to begin design work and a study on the traffic circle. The city will likely not have to pay back that money because the project was still in the public input phase, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.

The Chamber of Greater Springfield President and CEO Mike McDorman asked commissioners to “take a leap of faith” and use the project as a pilot for future roundabouts that could be constructed at other intersections in Springfield.

With no local dollars being used as part of the project, McDorman, who provided testimony to commissioners in a letter prior to Tuesday’s meeting, believes the city shouldn’t pass up a “free opportunity to help move our community forward.”

“I know its unpopular today, but sometimes moving the community forward for the greater good can be unpopular until you see the effects of it in the future,” McDorman said.

Springfield resident Mike Lowe thanked commissioners for rejecting the project and residents signing petitions.

“Your voices have been heard,” Lowe said.

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