MOUNT VERNON — Problems stemming from truck traffic around Public Square and on East High Street has long been an issue discussed by Mount Vernon City Council. One idea for solving the problem has been around for at least five years, if not longer, and that is to reroute U.S. 36 off of High Street and onto Chestnut Street.
Councilman Chuck Dice is an advocate of such a change.
“Moving it would help the truck drivers. They wouldn’t have to make a 90-degree turn at Park Street and then immediately make a 90-degree turn onto High Street,” he said of trucks headed westbound.
For drivers headed eastbound, it would eliminate trucks continuing into the residential section on East High Street because drivers miss the left turn at Park Street, he said.
“It would take truck traffic off the main entrance to St. Vincent school, and also take truck traffic off the square. And it would eliminate the occasional semi truck that gets mixed up and goes down South Main Street,” he continued. “It would be better for everybody if the trucks would go straight down to Norton [from Coshocton Avenue].”
The proposed eastbound route would go from West High Street, north on Norton Street, east on Chestnut Street, straight through to Coshocton Avenue. Westbound, it run from Coshocton Avenue to west on Chestnut Street, south on Norton Street, and west on West High Street.
Mike Grubaugh of Bee Line Service, 7 N. Norton St., doesn’t like the idea of rerouting U.S. 36.
“I personally would not be in favor of it,” he said. “This section between Chestnut and High Street is like a racetrack now. The traffic on this one block of street is, to say the least, phenomenal without doing that.
“We pull in [our garage] off of Norton Street, and consequently we have to back out onto Norton,” he continued. “People are blowing their horns already; everybody is in a hurry. I would venture to say about 50 percent seem to stop and let you finish backing out. I think for us it would be horrible.”
He said eastbound trucks would have to make a sharp left-hand turn, then make a sharp right-hand turn onto a street that is heavily parked.
“High Street is a wide street and the visibility is so much better,” he said. “A change would impact a whole bunch of people.”
Bryce Coffing of Edward Jones Investment, 120 E. Chestnut St., has mixed feelings about the idea.
“It’s amazing how much more busy Chestnut Street has become since I moved my office here,” he said. “At certain parts of the day, it’s tough to get out of there. At the same time, I have not seen much back-up on East High Street.
“It’s obviously a shorter, straighter path, especially getting away from the residential area where the trucks don’t turn,” he continued. “But I would think it would back up traffic on Coshocton Avenue even more.
“Since we redid Chestnut Street a couple of years ago, people are using it more,” he added. “I think there would be a concern with parking, with the residents and businesses. You might have to eliminate some of the street parking.”
Dice said he has been frustrated in the past because the idea has been brought up, but no progress has been made and the process itself seems unclear.
The first step is easy.
“The city sends a letter to request that we reroute U.S. Route 36,” said Susan Wyant, spokeswoman for District 5 of the Ohio Department of Transportation. “ODOT would do a traffic study to see if that is the best way to route it. If it’s approved, the ODOT regional director makes a journal entry, and moves it forward to the Federal Highway Administration.”
The FHA is involved because U.S. 36 is on the National Truck Network and subject to certain federal roadway requirements.
“If it doesn’t make sense, ODOT could decline the request to reroute,” said Wyant, “but we couldn’t do that without good reason. There has to be sound decision making involved.”
There’s the catch.
What goes into this sound decision-making process?
According to a spokesman for the FHA, road requirements for the National Truck Network include a lane width of 12 feet and “trucks must be able to make all of the turns.”
Now it begins to get a little more complicated.
“The turning radius is probably one of the biggest issues,” said Cameron Keaton, city engineer. “Trucks shouldn’t have to go into the other lane of traffic to make a turn.”
He added that the path of the vehicle’s rear wheels is what comes into play when making a turn; the path is dependent on the length of the vehicle. Most semi trucks are 55 feet in length; auto and boat transporters can be up to 65 feet.
ODOT sets the turning radius, which varies according to the type of vehicles involved, the mass of vehicles, the speed on that section of road, topography and the type of intersection. For example, said Wyant, a squared-up intersection would have different requirements than a Y intersection.
She said each intersection would need to be surveyed, and information plugged into a software program that includes truck templates that determine the turning radius for each intersection. Information about the type and size of vehicles using the route would be obtained through a traffic study that would include an origin and destination information.
Regarding the 12-foot lane width, Chestnut Street, said Keaton, has a 66 foot right of way, which includes the road, sidewalks and parking spaces. According to the FHA, any structure must be at least 24 inches behind the curb. On Chestnut Street, many of the buildings are right on the sidewalk.
“You would probably end up losing parking,” said Keaton. “Even if you could squeeze parking spaces in, with the parallel parking on Chestnut Street, it becomes a safety issue with drivers opening doors. From a safety standpoint, it would be best to eliminate parking.”
In the city limits, three state routes merge with U.S. 36 at some point. According to Wyant, those routes would have to be re-routed to Chestnut Street as well. Based on a cursory look at these intersections, the intersection of North Gay Street and Chestnut may pose a problem for trucks traveling north on Gay Street, making a right-hand turn onto Chestnut to follow U.S. 36 east. At the least, said Keaton, the on-street parking would probably need to be eliminated on Chestnut.
Rather than a straight line on East High Street to South Sandusky, trucks traveling eastbound following Ohio 229, and southbound on Ohio 661 and Ohio 586, would have to make the jog at Norton Street onto Chestnut, then turn south on Sandusky.
In addition to traffic studies and determining turning radii at each intersection, an environmental impact study to assess the effect of noise and vibration would have to be completed, according to the FHA spokesman. Also to be considered is proximity to a historical district, crosswalks and pedestrians.
There would also be hearings for public input and a public comment period.
Wyant said it would take a minimum of six to 12 months just to get started, and 12 to 24 months to complete the project.
“There are reasons why these routes cannot easily be rerouted,” she said.
Despite the lengthy process involved, Councilman Dice believes it’s time to get the process moving.
“We always are complaining about traffic routes in Mount Vernon,” he said. “If we are interested in controlling truck traffic in Mount Vernon, we really have to give consideration to the idea.”
Now, about that letter. Does anyone have a stamp?