Controversial $1.8M Derr Road lane reduction project will move forward

Aug 30, 2017
A controversial $1.8 million project to reduce Derr Road from four lanes to three lanes and add designated bike lanes on the roadway was approved to move forward on Aug. 29, despite opposition from community members. However, the Springfield City Commission could stop the project after more information is released during the design phase, commissioners said. Bill Lackey/Staff

Springfield city commissioners approved moving forward with a controversial $1.8 million project to reduce Derr Road from four lanes to three lanes and add designated bike lanes on the roadway, despite opposition from community members.

But commissioners could stop the project after more information is released during the design phase, they said.

RELATED: $1.8M road diet discussed for busy north side Springfield corridor

City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill voted against the project while the other four commissioners voted in favor of it.

A large group of people attended the meeting, including members of bicycling clubs in favor of the project and some Derr Road residents who oppose it.

The project calls for converting Derr Road from four to three car lanes between Home and Villa roads, which would include a center turn-lane and make space for bike lanes in both directions.

Public meetings for residents to offer input on the project are expected to be held next summer. If commissioners are unsatisfied with the proposal then, they could reject it, similar to what happened with a proposed roundabout at North Bechtle Avenue last year.

MORE: $4.5M in federal money to be spent on Springfield streets

“A no-build is definitely an option,” Bodenmiller said.

Neighbors are more concerned about people having to dart into traffic to get onto the roadway than cycling, said Walter Brooker, who has lived on nearby Ronald Road for more than 40 years. He considers cycling a leisure activity.

“Having only one lane instead of two will constrict traffic, cause more confusion due to longer lines of traffic and concentrate emissions,” he said. “I think I speak for the silent majority when I urge you to vote down this proposal.”

The lane reduction won’t work with the increased traffic from the Derr Road shopping corridor and other nearby housing developments, said Larry Riley, who has lived in that area for more than 40 years.

“If we take the project to narrow it down to two lanes as proposed, we’re just recreating a Bechtle Avenue again,” he said.

Springfield resident Edith Trowbridge uses her bike solely for transportation, driving on the main streets multiple times per day where there are no bike lanes. Many people are courteous, but others aren’t, she said, including yelling at cyclists who use the roadway — despite it being illegal to bike on the sidewalks.

MORE: More than $1M in new developments coming to Derr Road

“Bicycle lanes identify a place where you’re supposed to be,” Trowbridge said. “Many people in town don’t have a vehicle. I see them on the bike trails all the time. (A bike) is their personal vehicle. It’s not just out there for exercise. We are taxpayers, our money is going to this also, it makes it better for us and people’s children who will be using these streets.”

The project was originally approved with federal congestion, mitigation and air quality money paying for about 80 percent of the project. The federal share was recently reduced to about 60 percent, Bodenmiller said, meaning the city will pay about $700,000 for the project. It’s possible other state money could be used to pay the remainder of the project, he said.

The cost to move forward with the design phase is about $104,000, Bodenmiller said.

The Clark County/Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee’s consultant, Burgess and Niple, completed a corridor feasibility study on Derr Road between Home and Villa roads earlier this year, as well as Home Road between Ohio 4 and North Limestone Street.

The project won’t create delays, the report says, but it will reduce travel speeds and improve safety. The nearby bus stops won’t have an effect on traffic in the corridor, it says. About 10,000 cars drive on Derr Road between Home and Villa roads each day, according to TCC traffic counts.

RELATED: Study: Fewer lanes can improve safety on Derr Road

The corridor averages about 30 crashes annually, which is higher than other corridors with similar daily traffic counts.

Springfield city commissioners received hundreds of calls from residents, both for and against the project, they said.

After driving the roadway during peak hours, City Commissioner Karen Duncan didn’t believe the traffic was too bad, she said. The city must take advantage of federal money offered for the project, Duncan said.

“Why not Springfield? Why turn those monies back and send them somewhere else where they’re going to be used in another community for another road project,” she said.

City Commissioner Joyce Chilton also received multiple e-mails on the project and saw several common themes, including residents who wanted the roadway paved and sidewalks fixed and widened. The city must go through with the next phase of the project to see if it’s a good fit, Chilton said. If it’s not, the money can be used on other local roadways that qualify, she said.

“If we don’t vote for this tonight and shoot it down, the city certainly does not have that kind of money to (repave the roadway),” she said.

Martin disagreed with Duncan about traffic issues on Derr Road after spending time there last week. He would like to see alternatives to the project, including possibly adding bike lanes to the four-lane roadway, similar to the lanes marked on Lane Avenue in Columbus. He asked city staff members to write a letter to ask engineers to thoroughly look at alternatives and take public comments into consideration during the design phase.

MORE: Clark County, ODOT seek federal money to move up I-70 widening

“I’m very skeptical removing a lane will help (traffic),” he said. “I potentially think it’s going to be worse. I understand where people are coming from when they say the don’t want this … It’s premature to flush this grant until we get answers to those questions.”

O’Neill voted against the proposal, he said, because the city was approving the money for the project. Technically it never has to come before commissioners again, although he believes staff will bring it back next year. He also believes it will create issues for residents who already have a difficult time getting out of their driveways.

“If we can make it, let’s make it work, but taking it down to two lanes and adding a suicide lane is not the answer, not with the age of the people Springfield has,” said O’Neill, who assured residents he would continue to fight for four lanes of traffic on Derr Road.

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