COLUMBIANA - A long-awaited upgrade to the state Routes 7 and 14 intersection is finally possible now that the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has approved funding.
Columbiana City Manager Lance Willard announced in a press release Thursday ODOT approved the funding after hearing how a new planned development would increase traffic there, and seeing the project had support from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) and developer Tom Mackall, who is heading up the Town Center and Marketplace at Firestone Farms development.
Willard revealed in the release that Mackall had actually hired the same company that updated a 2006 traffic study at that intersection back in 2012. The study by Jobes Henderson and Associates was submitted with the city's grant funding request in 2012, which was later denied by ODOT.
Mackall turned to the company to perform yet another study of the intersection to see how the planned development would impact traffic there, and those results were submitted with the city's most recent grant application.
Willard said the upgrades have been in the works for nearly a decade, with the initial groundwork laid by former city officials in 2006.
In February of last year Police Chief Tim Gladis reiterated upgrades were needed, and said the intersection, located between the Valero gas station and 7&14 truck stop and not far from the Prima Health Care Facility is the site of many traffic crashes and is one of the most traveled intersections, especially during the summer months.
The existing signal is only a stop-and-go signal, with motorists left to maneuver turns on their own, and Gladis has said the problem arises when cars - mostly along state Route 7 north and south - attempt to turn, resulting in cars going around them turning into the path of oncoming traffic.
At that time Dallis Dawson & Associates in East Liverpool volunteered to do a traffic study and submit the results to ODOT to help the city obtain grant funding for the necessary changes, which Gladis has said are turning arrows in the signals and turning lanes.
That grant application was also denied, but Dallis Dawson & Associates continued to work on the project and assisted Jobes Henderson & Associates with the most recent grant application submission, according to the release.
Because the roads are state-owned any changes to the traffic signal or lanes must be approved by ODOT, and approval is typically only given to those projects ODOT deems to be necessary based on traffic crash frequencies, with fatalities given the highest priority.
All traffic crashes at the intersection over the years have been submitted to ODOT, which is standard protocol for crashes on any state route.
According to the press release, the upgrades will cost $2.5 million and the city has been awarded $1.2 million through ODOT's Small City Program Grant Funds, to be distributed in 2018, with an additional $500,000 in funding available immediately.
The city will be required to come up with the remaining funds, and Willard said the city is in the process of seeking funding to further reduce the balance. Once the final balance is determined the city will then consider other funding instruments, like low interest loans or tax increment financing, he said.
A more detailed project timeline and start date will be discussed among city officials on July 28, he added.
The deciding factor for ODOT were the results of the most recent traffic study that showed "improvements would be warranted during phase II of the proposed Firestone development," he said in the release.
Willard explained phase I of the project is focused on the Town Center of the development, with phase II moving toward the Marketplace, located on the other side of state Route 14 where the former Columbiana Maze Craze is currently located.
Willard wished to thank Mackall and Johnson for their help with the grant funding requests, and all those who have worked on the intersection project over the years.
"The backed up traffic at these intersections has been a concern for many years. Improving the intersection will improve safety and efficiency," he said.
He also said the improvements will help promote economic development in that area, and added the city is continuing to work with Dallis Dawson & Associates for additional grant opportunities.
City officials will be meeting with ODOT officials in July to go over details of the project, he said.
"This grant is great news. We all agree that projected growth in that area of the city elevates these improvements to one of our highest traffic safety priorities," Gladis said Thursday.