New Traffic Pattern For East State/Rt. 33 Interchange Selected

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Athens will once again see changes to the traffic patterns in the city. 

Four years after the construction of a roundabout at the Richland Avenue and Route 682 intersection, another new traffic pattern unlike any other in southeast Ohio will be coming to Athens.

The City of Athens announced this week the selection of the Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) with existing ramp configuration to replace the current East State Street and Route 33 interchange. Once built, this Diverging Diamond Interchange will be the first in southeastern Ohio. 

"The East State Street Corridor is one of the most heavily travelled roadways in southeastern Ohio today, therefore improving the efficiency and safety of this interchange is paramount,” said Athens City Engineer and Director of Public Works Andrew Stone in a news release. “The city is committed to this alternative as the best approach to reduce crashes, ease congestion that affects this vibrant business corridor, and improve conditions for both pedestrians and motorists in eastern Athens."

A DDI eliminates the need for left turn arrows, which increases the capacity of the interchange and improves safety by reducing the number of potential vehicle conflict points. The purpose of the DDI is to get more traffic through the lights at the intersection to prevent vehicles from backing up on the ramps and onto the highway. 

The second option considered would have eliminated the existing cloverleaf ramp which is used by motorists going from East State Street to westbound Route 33. A straight exit ramp would have been constructed on the north side of East State Street on property currently owned by Athens County Children Services.

In May, ODOT and the City of Athens held a public meeting to receive feedback on two potential designs for the area. 

Concerns at that time centered around the learning curve for drivers, something ODOT spokesman David Rose said would be helped by the design of the road. The lanes will direct the natural flow of traffic to the appropriate direction. 

Originally designed in the 1960s and built more than 40 years ago, today’s traffic volumes have outgrown the current East State St. and Route 33 interchange design standards, according to the release. Moreover, the East State Street corridor has developed into one of the city’s premier retail corridors. This growth has not only increased traffic and crashes in the area, but has raised safety concerns for pedestrians. The new DDI interchange will aim to improve traffic flow and safety as well as enhance pedestrian connectivity.

The Route 33/50/32 interchange was studied for a year and a half, leading to the decision to focus on the Route 33 and East State Street interchange first.

ODOT has estimated that approximately 29,000 vehicles travel on East State Street per day, with the highest traffic count on Saturdays as the road is traveled to access the local farmers market and other shopping. 

The diverging diamond interchange is a newer U.S. traffic concept that was first implemented in France 30 years ago. The first diverging diamond interchange in the U.S. was opened in 2009 in Missouri. There are now between 20 and 25 of these interchanges in the United States in 14 states. The only one in existence in Ohio is at the interchange of Robert Road and I-270 in Columbus, which was completed last year.

Athens and ODOT worked alongside local stakeholders and received input from area businesses, agencies, residents, and emergency responders. The release states that public outreach will continue throughout the planning process including an educational component similar to the Richland Avenue roundabout.

With an alternative selected, the consultant, Parsons Princkerhoff, will deliver the corridor study to the city by August. The city will use the study to apply for ODOT safety funds in September. Construction is currently estimated to begin 2016.

The project is estimated to cost $3.4 million according to previous reports. The second option would have been more costly at approximately $5 million.