The Ohio Department of Transportation notified the Athens County Commissioners earlier this month that a public hearing requested by the body will not be granted.
The project in question is the proposed closure of Johnson Road at Route 33 in The Plains. The plan would be to turn highway access point into a cul-de-sac, but the left-hand turn across Route 33 northbound onto River Road would be maintained. Construction would occur in the spring of 2021, and traffic that would have used the interchange would be redirected to the Route 682 interchange and corridor through The Plains.
ODOT noted in its plan that there have been 26 crashes at the intersection from 2009-2018. With that in mind, ODOT hopes to lessen the amount of crashes that occur in that area.
The project is still in a public input phase, which originally ended June 30 but has been extended through July 15. Comments can be submitted by email to D10.johnsonRdComments@dot.ohio.gov; by mail to 338 Muskingum Dr., Marietta, OH 45750, Attn: Chery Swain; by phone by calling 740-568-3904; or by commenting online at transportation.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odot/projects/projects/113229
In the response letter to the Commissioners, deputy director of District 10, Darla Miller, informed the parties that due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, ODOT is “not currently holding in-person public meetings.”
“As such, we are requesting and receiving significant feedback as outlined below,” Miller wrote. “A public hearing is not required and will not be conducted for this project.”
She noted that the Department has received a total of two dozen letters, emails and calls concerning the project.
“ODOT recognizes that not all residents have access to or regularly use the Internet,” she wrote. “On May 22 ODOT mailed nearly 800 postcards to addresses in The Plains, informing residents of the proposal and the public comment period. In addition, ODOT’s Athens County Garage managers have distributed more than a dozen fliers throughout The Plains, to both businesses and individuals.”
Included on the online comment page is a PowerPoint presentation, narrated by ODOT District 10 Traffic Engineer Eric Davis, and details how the project will be conducted. Crash diagrams and the proposed diagrams are also included on the online portal.
During the Tuesday, June 2 County Commissioner meeting, Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden explained to the Commissioners that he has done extensive research on the Johnson Road — Route 33 interchange during his time as Engineer. When he first took the office in 2013, a conversation about the interchange was ongoing, and led to further signage and paving markings as well as quick curbs that prevent turning left onto the northbound lanes of Route 33.
Maiden said following these changes, there were no accidents concerning a left-hand turn off Route 33 onto Johnson Road for over four years, and the other accidents in the area were cut in half. He noted that traffic on Route 33 is moving faster in recent years, and believes there will be an order to raise the speed limit on the highway soon.
“I understand their concern,” he said. “I support closing the median for the left hand turn.”
Maiden explained that he isn’t sure the right answer is to close the end of Johnson Road altogether, however. There have been no accidents turning right off Johnson onto Route 33 over the last five years, and only two accidents with no injuries in the past decade.
Maiden has noted that he believes an acceleration lane would be a feasible solution for the interchange. ODOT has disagreed, noting there is only about 1,000 feet between Johnson Road and the next Route 33 bridge. Most acceleration ramps are designed to begin at 1,500 feet.
According to ODOT’s project plans, the Department found during the course of 2019 there were four crashes which occurred while drivers were making legal movements. This led ODOT to pursue the proposed project.
The work would cost an estimated $250,000 to complete, the project online portal page states.
The Department has also answered questions as to why a traffic signal would not be a good solution, noting that it may cause “a greater concern.”
“A traffic signal is not a safety device,” the frequently asked questions document for the project reads. “It is a traffic control device that controls the right of way of vehicles using the intersection. Studies have shown that the number and sometimes severity of crashes do not necessarily decrease with the installation of a traffic signal. Usually, the type of crashes change, typically from angle (t-Bone) to rear-end type crashes.”
Exit and entrance ramps have also been vetoed by ODOT, citing Federal Highway Administration rules.
“The distance between the Route 550 overpass and the Route 682 overpass is 2.2 miles,” the FAQ document reads. “ODOT’s Location and Design Manual states that in suburban areas, interchanges should not be closer than 4 miles and in rural areas they should not be closer than 3 miles. This section states that spacing less than this may have a detrimental effect on freeway operations.”