MOUNT VERNON — Big changes are in the works for property owners and businesses located along Coshocton Avenue from Sychar Road to the traffic signal at Tractor Supply Co. The city of Mount Vernon and the Ohio Department of Transportation are partnering to implement safety improvements along that stretch, and jointly hosted a public open house meeting on Tuesday to give residents the opportunity to learn more about the proposed project. Construction is projected to begin in 2012.
The project design is the result of a corridor safety study along the route, and is actually two projects combined: The widening from Center Street to Shalimar Drive and the safety measures further east on Coshocton.
The proposed safety solutions include the addition of a center turn lane and sidewalks from the Center Run Bridge to the four/five lane section, modification of some commercial drives to right-in/right-out, restriction of left turns in the commercial area and removal of traffic signals at Eastgate Drive and the Tractor Supply entrance. Adjustments will also be made at the Vernonview Drive intersection area.
Kate Stickle, ODOT District 5 spokesperson, said everything on the proposal is due to accidents.
“This project is to improve the safety and the traveling for the motorists,” she said. “In a three-year period, the total number of crashes within the corridor was 394, which averages out to 131 crashes per year, which exceeds the state’s average crash rate for this type of roadway. The total number of intersection-related crashes was 166, or 42 percent of the total crashes in the corridor. That’s why we want to implement these solutions.”
ODOT engineer Chris Yount said the existing sanitary sewer will remain in place although some water lines may have to be lowered. ODOT will be adding storm sewer drainage in strategic areas. The additional right-of way required for the project is to be acquired from the properties on the north side of U.S. 36/Coshocton Avenue.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis said the project does affect private properties and may involve taking out some trees to accommodate the widening of the street and the installation of sidewalks on both sides.
“We have a lot of people walking in a high-traffic area, and this is an opportunity to make a safe pedestrian climate and what we believe to be a safer motorized climate there as well.”
The project appears to be a true partnership between ODOT and the city, both in the planning and in the funding. Mavis said ODOT came to the city, about a year and a half ago, and said, “We have a deal we don’t think you can refuse.”
“The deal was,” Mavis explained, “‘if you let us combine these two projects, we’ll do the engineering at our cost.’ That saved the city $250,000 up front.”
The costs for the project are being shared, although the lion’s share is being paid by ODOT. Tax increment financing district money, Mavis said, will be used to pay the city’s share of the project from Highland Drive east. City capital improvement funds will be used to finance the city’s share for the portion from Highland Drive to Sychar Road.
Some federal funds are also involved, and that is where a major sticking point for residents in the area comes in. Because accidents still occur at the Eastgate intersection in spite of a traffic signal, the signal is scheduled to be removed.
That was the concern of many of the individuals who attended the public meeting, Chuck Ransom among them. He is also one of the property owners affected by the planned project.
“Although our primary concern is the elimination of the traffic signal,” he said, “we are going to lose a couple of trees. One is a redbud tree planted by my grandmother and grandfather over 40 years ago. ... That’s a disappointment, but the main issue is the traffic signal. We live close to that intersection and taking out that light and widening the road will increase the difficulty of our access to Coshocton Avenue — getting out of our driveway. Our access to Coshocton Avenue is made possible through that traffic signal, along with other residents and people on Highland Drive and Eastgate.”
Ransom said he can see some positives in the overall proposal, but does have some concerns about how changing access may affect the businesses in the area.
Mavis said the city is willing to listen to those concerns and said there will be continued evaluations and modifications of the proposal before construction starts.
“Public input is very important,” Sickle said. “It’s huge. We want people to let their voice be heard. We do look at every public comment. They’re out there every day. We do perform traffic counts, we perform the policies and procedures necessary to implement these solutions for safe and efficient travel, but the public input is very important. ... We will review those comments and revise the mapping and the proposed solutions.”
Interested individuals can view the proposed safety improvements on ODOT’s District 5 Web site at www.dot.state.oh.us/dist5. A comment sheet for community feedback will also be available online. Comments must be received by Nov. 24.
Residents may also contact City Engineer Cameron Keaton at 393-9528 or Safety-Service Director Dave Glass at 393-9520.