Updated Mon, Aug 5, 2013 9:16 am
State highway officials are being asked by Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden to improve markings and signs at the Route 33/Johnson Road intersection near The Plains in hopes of preventing complete closure of the median.
On Friday, an ODOT planning and engineering administrator said some changes are being considered.
Maiden indicated he’d like to see changes made, then evaluated to see if they are effective enough to prevent closure of the intersection.
In February, ODOT officials announced that as a safety measure it would close the intersection’s median. That would prevent drivers from illegally crossing the intersection from River Road to Johnson Road, and vice versa, and also prevent illegal left turns from the side roads. Even though only right turns are supposed to be made from Johnson and River Roads (and would still be allowable under ODOT’s original proposal), drivers continue to make left turns and to cross the intersection, causing accidents. However, closing the median also would stop left turns from Route 33 onto the two side roads.
The announcement drew objections from some residents and businesses in The Plains. ODOT agreed to hold off making the median change until it completes the nearby Route 682 bridge rehabilitation project, which is expected to be done by the end of October. In April, ODOT painted right-turn-only arrows on Johnson and River Roads to further reinforce that left turns onto Route 33 are illegal.
“I just don’t feel we’ve done all we can to alert drivers that they can’t do that,” Maiden said. “Before you take action, before you close the intersection, you’ve got to look at if from the viewpoint of the driver.”
Maiden sent ODOT videos showing the intersection from the perspective of drivers on Johnson and River Roads. (The videos are available on www.athensohiotoday.com)
Maiden said the videos show that the word “only” and the right-turn arrow are painted too far apart on each of the side roads. He said the spacing would be correct if motorists were driving 55 miles per hour, but because traffic slows in anticipation of the intersection the word “only” is too far from the arrow.
“I believe the pavement markings should be closer together and just before the (painted) stop bar at the intersection,” Maiden wrote in an email to ODOT.
Also, Maiden noted that the right-turn-only sign on Johnson Road is obscured by a stop sign, and can’t be seen at all when a driver’s car is stopped at the painted stop-bar line. He said River Road has two right-turn-only signs that are more visible.
Maiden said he believes there needs to be signage in the median of the four-lane highway to tell motorists they can’t cross the highway to make left turns, although he’s not certain what the wording should be.
“I don’t want to create confusion,” he said.
Also, Maiden suggested the possibility of some type of barrier in the intersection that would inhibit cars from crossing the intersection, but allow left turns from Route 33 onto Johnson Road (but not onto River Road). During a study done in 2011, 476 vehicles turned left from Route 33 onto Johnson Road, but only 10 turned left onto River Road, Maiden noted.
Debra Fought, an ODOT planning and engineering administrator, told the Messenger of Thursday that the agency was having an internal meeting Friday at which Maiden’s suggestions would be discussed.
“Modifying pavement markings and signage is being considered, as well as turning movement delineations to prevent left turns from River Road and Johnson Road,” Fought wrote in an e-mail to The Messenger after the meeting. “Engineering staff will have recommendations this month.”
According to Maiden, Fought indicated to him that ODOT would consider the possibility of a raised curb in the center median to prohibit through traffic or left turns from Johnson and River Roads, and to prohibit left turns onto River Road from Route 33.
Fought did not specifically mention the curb idea in her comments to The Messenger.
However, she indicated that closing the intersection is still on the table.
“We will continue to evaluate total median closure,” she wrote.
After ODOT announced in February that it was going to close the median of the intersection, the possibility was suggested of lessening the impact by building a road beneath the nearby four-lane highway bridge to connect Johnson Road to River Road.
Maiden, who became county engineer in January, said he’s had a full plate of other tasks, but hasn’t dropped the idea of the access road. He said such a project would not be a simple matter.
“We are exploring funding options through the state and federal government grants, but we do not currently have local funds to match those grants,” Maiden said.
Fought said ODOT has “committed to explore funding opportunities with the county engineer....”