Turnaround fair play for traffic flow in county

Turnaround fair play for traffic flow in county

Image Credit: Dave Mast

Frustrated drivers west of Berlin hoping to get some relief from bogged-down traffic will have to wait a couple of months to find out if relief is on the way.

Ohio Department of Transportation District 11 members Christopher Varcolla, office of planning and engineering, David Hoffman, transportation engineer and Scott Warner, planning engineer visited with the Holmes County commissioners at the Old Jail meeting room in Millersburg to discuss the status of the proposed roundabout that was being sought for the intersection of state Routes 557 and 62 as well as a turning lane at the intersection of state Route 62 and C.R. 201 just west of Berlin.

The purpose for this discussion came about because both of those intersections continue to face a great deal of backed-up traffic and the commissioners would like to see a system put in place that would allow easier access for drivers coming onto the state route via 557 and 201.

Varcolla said the initial plan was submitted last year, but ODOT’s safety planning committee that would allocate the funds said the proposals didn’t meet the safety issue standards necessary.

Varcolla said the submission was turned down a year ago, but ODOT now has been extended additional safety funds, so the county can resubmit the proposal.

While the three men said there was a good chance the proposal could pass this time, one issue it is facing is that the log jam of traffic is one of inconvenience and not safety.

“Our safety funds were limited last year, but the governor gave us extra so that funding pot is a little more flush now,” Varcolla said. “We plan on resubmitting that plan again this March.”

Varcolla said the roundabout project, estimated at a cost of more than $2 million, would be a single-lane construction that would eliminate the need for traffic going in any of the three directions to stop. Instead, oncoming traffic would have to slow down and navigate around the circle, keeping traffic flow moving along at a slower pace but eliminating the backing up of traffic along state Route 557.

“We just want everyone to get their turn at safely entering traffic, which isn’t happening right now for vehicles coming off 557,” commissioner Joe Miller said.

Warner said the intent of ODOT was to apply for the entirety of the grant out of the safety fund, however, grants falling under the safety fund are examined by a committee that considers crash history.

Miller said the issue on 557 is that traffic could become a safety issue as more traffic problems build as the county grows its tourism and population. He said drivers are already aggravated about having to wait for extended periods of time and could take chances in darting out into traffic at inopportune times.

“It may not be considered a safety problem, but it is a frustration that could turn into a safety problem,” Miller said.

Varcolla called it an operational problem, for which there are no funds for at this time because everyone would apply for grant funding if that were the case.

“We have to suspend our safety funds at locations where we can reduce serious injuries and fatalities,” Varcolla said.

Warner added that there is a scoring system for safety projects. He said if the project came up with other outside funding sources that would be committed toward the project that would be of value and could help push it through.

He did say that they felt more confident now than compared to last year that the proposal could get accepted.

“We would like to see this issue happen,” Warner said. “But this safety fund looks at where it can get the most bang for its buck to reduce fatalities and serious injuries.”

Miller compared this site to that at the intersection of state Route 39 and C.R. 77 near Hiland High School, which did receive funding several years ago.

Talk then switched to the type of roundabout that would be placed should the safety funds become available. Varcolla said the roundabout would also include a buggy/bicycle lane that should enhance the flow of traffic and provide greater safety.

“We’ve had other places install roundabouts in Amish communities, and once people get used to the roundabout, everyone seems to navigate them well, and this particular roundabout wouldn’t create a very big footprint,” Varcolla said.

Miller expressed concern for the house situated on the north side of the intersection, and Warner said the roundabout is small enough that it shouldn’t affect the house, noting that it may even make traffic quieter because traffic would be slowing down.

State Representative Darrell Kick was also at the meeting, and he said while he can’t guarantee any type of funding, he would be more than willing to serve as a voice and an advocate for the project.

Varcolla said there have been limited reports of crashes at this intersection although they have received complaints from members at Keim, whose trucks have gotten bogged down in the traffic waiting to enter state Route 62 traffic flow.

He added that building a roundabout rather than placing a traffic light there would be the way to proceed because it keeps traffic flowing constantly.

Warner recommended that the commissioners allow ODOT to resubmit the application in March and hopefully it would succeed, considering it wasn’t that far away from doing so initially. He said the county should know within one month after applying again if it would receive funding.

He added that in addition, ODOT has a second application process available again in September, something that wasn’t available the last time the county applied.

“We’ve got two application cycles available this coming year, so let’s apply and see where we end up in March,” Warner said.

The commissioners agreed to that proposal, so the funding will be in the hands of the safety committee this March.