Rough road ahead? More on intersection project

The controversy over a proposed $3.2 million traffic and pedestrian upgrade at the intersection of Seventh, Greene and Pike streets continues after Marietta City Council heard some last-minute objections to the upgrades from members of the business community last week.

And those concerns may carry enough weight to sink the project entirely.

Among the businessmen addressing council last week was Marietta oral surgeon Dean Bobbitt, who said he’s having a new office facility built at a complex in the 1300 block of Greene Street.

“I spent many months looking at suitable locations for myself and my partner to put our business,” he said. “I think this plan will definitely create an inconvenience for everyone, and it is worthy of further consideration.”

Others, including fellow dentists Bret and John Frye and Austin Rehl, had similar comments.

A major concern for residents and businesses in the Norwood district is that the proposed intersection improvements would prohibit traffic from turning left from Seventh onto Greene Street, forcing drivers onto the four-lane Pike Street and taking them well out of their way to access homes and business locations in Norwood.

And businesses aren’t the only entities that would be impacted.

“It’s going to be a problem for us because our Head Start buses would have to go up Pike Street to Acme, then take Acme to Phillips Street, and even our small buses would have difficulty making a left onto Phillips, which is a very narrow street,” said David Brightbill, executive director of Washington-Morgan Community Action, which operates the Head Start facility on Phillips Street.

He said the school buses would have to continue north on Acme Street to Greene Street, then take Greene back to the western end of Phillips Street and make a sharp left turn in order to access the Head Start school building.

“We run two to three buses that make at least four trips per bus to and from the school every day,” Brightbill added. “And we bus preschool children from all over the city.”

He said anything the city could do to keep the left turn from Seventh Street onto Greene Street open would be helpful.

“Personally I think they should work on adjusting the signal lighting at that intersection before they consider moving ahead with this project,” Brightbill said.

The proposed preliminary design alternative for the project, which is supported by the city engineering department, would include dual left turn lanes for northbound traffic from Ohio 7 onto north Seventh Street as well as dual left turn lanes from north Seventh Street onto Ohio 7 north.

The current left turn from north Seventh Street onto Greene Street at the Speedway store would be eliminated and there would be a right-turn only from Greene onto Seventh.

A signal-protected left turn lane would also be provided for southbound traffic on Ohio 7 to turn onto south Seventh Street. A pedestrian island would also be installed at that location.

Other improvements include the installation of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant signalized pedestrian crosswalks and curb ramps across Ohio 7 as well as across Greene and north Seventh streets.

In addition, the alley that now exists along Hardwood Center Drive and old Pike Street, just east of the intersection, would be improved to a two-lane corridor between Greene and Ohio 7 to provide access to businesses located in that area.

Some Norwood area businesses several blocks from the Seventh, Greene and Pike intersection say they would also be impacted by the elimination of the left turn from Seventh onto Greene Street.

“We’re all concerned about this, and I just want them to leave the intersection as it is,” said Mary Eddy, owner of the Norwood Tavern at 935 Greene St.

She said not allowing traffic to make that left will force current customers to drive out Pike Street, then turn north on Acme to get back onto Greene Street where her business is located.

“Right now people will often stop for a couple of beers on their way home from work, but if they have to drive out Pike Street they’ll just bypass us altogether,” Eddy said.

In addition, she noted that semi trucks delivering beer to the tavern can’t turn around after a delivery if they’re facing west on Greene Street, so the trucks must travel to the Seventh Street intersection where they can currently make a left turn to get back onto Ohio 7.

The proposed intersection upgrade would also not allow a left turn from Greene onto Seventh, forcing the trucks to turn right on Seventh Street toward the Marietta College campus and downtown area.

“And I’m sure the city doesn’t want those trucks driving there,” Eddy said. “I think the city could spend $3.2 million in a more useful way.”

Chris Marple, co-owner of the Valu Vacs vacuum repair shop at 933 Greene St., had mixed feelings about the proposed intersection change.

“It would be more convenient for our customers (to be able to turn left onto Greene from Seventh Street), but on the other hand the improvements would make it safer for people traveling in this area,” he said. “We could lose some exposure but it would cut down on the traffic on this end of Greene Street. A lot of school children walk through here, and traffic can be crazy during the mornings and evenings.”

Just up the street, Eric Oiler is owner of the Norwood Antique Mall on the corner of Greene Street and Colegate Drive.

“We want everybody to be safe,” he said. “And I’m located on the corner, so I get a lot of customers coming from Colegate Drive as well as from Acme and Greene streets. But no left turn from Seventh onto Greene would have an impact on Norwood residents.”

Questions have also been raised about the impact of a flood on the intersection. Longtime Norwood resident Louise Gwinn told council members last week that Pike Street is under water when flooding occurs in Marietta’s south side.

“When it floods, Greene Street is the only way people can get to their homes in Norwood,” she said. “How will anyone be able to get into that area if that left turn is eliminated?”

Sheila Huck, who works at the Boart Longyear office on Greene Street, agreed.

“I live in Beverly, and our offices were located in the Kardex complex in Reno during the 2004 flood,” she said. “When I came through town, Pike Street was flooded, and Greene was the only street that didn’t flood. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and backed up onto Seventh Street at the (Seventh, Pike and Greene) intersection.”

Marietta city engineer Joe Tucker said if floodwaters covered Pike Street, a detour would have to be established at the intersection that would temporarily allow a left turn from Seventh onto Greene, if the intersection project is completed as currently proposed.

Businesses located in the immediate vicinity of the intersection were contacted by the city engineer’s office when the project was first proposed, and some of those business owners attended public meetings to learn how the intersection upgrades would impact them.

But Councilman Denver Abicht, D-at large, said last week was the first time he had heard objections from so many businesses located farther out in the Norwood district, although there have been several open public meetings held on the issue by both the Ohio Department of Transportation and city council.

“And it surprised me that so many people waited until the last minute,” he said. “It was a real shock to hear from those businesses. But that intersection is used by everyone in the city, not just those who live or work in Norwood.”

Abicht said the majority of people he’s talked to say they would be OK with the project if the left turn from Seventh to Greene can remain.

Except for Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, whose district includes the Norwood area, most of the other council members had not reached out to businesses beyond the Seventh, Pike and Greene intersection, and only spoke with those who showed up at public informational meetings about the project.

Those businesses have included representatives from Apex Feed and True Value Hardware, Food 4 Less and Speedway.

But Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, said he had gone to the area businesses numerous times to discuss the project’s potential impact.

“That’s why I have voted against it,” he said. “It’s not a surprise to me that business owners are concerned.”

During a straw poll of council members taken during a streets and transportation committee meeting last month, Noland, Kalter and Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said they would vote against the intersection project as proposed, while Councilmen Abicht, Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, Michael Mullen, I-at large, and Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, wanted to see the project move forward.

But Thomas said Thursday that he was rethinking his support for the project after hearing from business owners last week.

“It’s a little different situation now,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for my consituents, so I’m looking at both sides of the fence.”

Thomas said although he, too, would like to see the left turn remain open from Seventh to Greene Street, he supported the rest of the project because it included installation of Americans with Disabilities-compliant curb ramps and safe crossing signals for pedestrians.

“I’m on the fence right now, and want to hear more before I make a final decision,” he said.

Mullen, McCauley and Abicht said they, too, would wait until yet another public meeting is scheduled to receive more comments on the proposed project.

Abicht said a date for that meeting has not been set at this time as he’s asked city engineer Joe Tucker to contact officials at the Ohio Department of Transportation’s central office in Columbus to see if there is any possibility to obtain a design exception that would allow the project to be completed without eliminating the left turn from Seventh to Greene.

During a streets committee meeting in January, Tucker noted he had requested the design exception from ODOT’s central office, but was told the left turn would have to be eliminated due to sight distance issues that exist in that area.

If ODOT cannot allow the exception, Abicht said he will likely recommend not moving forward with the project.