State transportation officials have decided to build a $1.5 million, first-of-it’s-kind roundabout at a dangerous Pike Twp. intersection, despite strong opposition from some residents.
Ohio Department of Transportation District 7’s decision comes just more than a month after officials held a public meeting before about 80 residents who spoke both for and against building a roundabout at the intersection of Ohio 235 and Ohio 41.
Most residents who submitted written comments to ODOT opposed the plan, but Traffic Engineer Craig Eley said a roundabout was deemed the best solution to decrease severe injury and fatal crashes in an area that ranks among the state’s most hazardous rural intersections.
“We took into account all of the public comments and past safety measures and we feel the roundabout can provide better safety at the intersection,” Eley said.
The plan is to build the first roundabout in Clark County — and likely the first in the state — where the speed limit is 55 mph on all four sides.
Roundabouts send motorists in a circular pattern and are widely used in Europe. They have become more popular in the United States in recent years.
The circular intersection will force motorists to slow down to 20 to 30 mph to navigate the structure.
Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2014 and is expected to take four to eight months to complete.
Opponents of the project say it’s too costly and could cause more traffic problems at the intersection, where at least two fatalities and nine serious injury crashes occurred between 2009 and 2011.
“I would think there would be better intersections with a higher risk factor with less burden to the community where that money could go rather than impeding (thousands) of cars per day,” said Chad Cadwell, 34, who lives two miles north of the intersection. “I’m of the opinion it would be better elsewhere and at a cheaper cost.”
Supporters say it’s worth the expense if it saves lives.
“What is a life worth? One person killed out there to me pays the bill. They’ve tried everything. Everything under the sun to make that intersection a better place … To me this is the answer. I hate to hear $1.5 million dollars, but to me a life is worth more than that,” said Bob Sigler, who lives near the intersection and attended the public meeting.
Officials have tried since the 1970s to reduce crashes at the intersection. Rumble strips, flashing red lights and most recently a traffic signal have been added there, but nothing worked.
Eley said those opposed to the roundabout didn’t offer solutions ODOT hadn’t already tried.
The city of Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, was the first to build a major roundabout in Ohio in 2004.
Dublin City Engineer Paul Hammersmith said he considers a roundabout a better solution for problem intersections than traffic signals.
“Motorists are starting to have a disregard for the signals. They have a disregard for the yellow and a disregard for red lights,” Hammersmith said.
Roundabouts typically cost between $1.5 million to $2 million to construct, Hammersmith said.
Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Director Scott Schmid said the roundabout should reduce angle crashes that often result in severe injury or fatalities.
Schmid said while the fatalities appear small to some, they are alarming to him and state traffic engineers who have reviewed the data.
“It does appear to be a high number because it’s repeatedly at the same intersection. Over the 10 years I’ve been here, there’s only a few rare instances where we have fatalities occurring at the same location,” Schmid said.
“The nature of the issue can’t be solved with additional signage or pavement markings,” he said. “You do look at it as a geometry issue.”
Carol Trissel, who lives near the intersection, became an advocate for changes to the intersection after Tracy Walkup, 49, was killed on June 26, 2012.
She said the $1.5 million roundabout is worth the cost of saving at least one person’s life.
“It’s sad for them to think that even one more person would have to die to warrant this change,” Trissell said. “It’s sad to think people are so against change they are willing to let more people die because they don’t like the price of the project or the idea of the project.”