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Athens City Council Introduces Richland Underpass ‘Safety’ Project

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ATHENS — A project intended to lower vehicular and pedestrian traffic along Richland Avenue was introduced Monday by Athens City Council for preliminary review.

The “pedestrian improvement” project, which officials say will create an “underpass” between West Green and the corridor near Porter Hall, is set to cost $3 million.

The city, however, will be paying $350,000 to $400,000 of that, with the rest of the cost coming from a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation, according to Councilwoman Michelle Papai.

Papai introduced the ordinance for first reading, including a report by the Buckley Group, an Athens-based engineering group who made preliminary plans for the project.

Many council members had questions and comments, but Councilman Patrick McGee was the only one to speak against the project based on the cost.

“I’ve asked several times…whether there would be some alternatives to this expenditure, such as traffic guards, less costly expenditures,” McGee said.

Others found that the project was the simplest solution to a daily safety issue.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of this, that area is more than a little congested a few times a day,” Councilman Jeff Risner said. “It’s just a mess.”

Risner compared the price tag for the underpass to hiring extra police officers to patrol the area on a daily basis.

“Of all the solutions I see, this is probably the most cost-effective,” Risner said. “It seems to me we’re better off just paying $300,000, $400,000 just once.”

Mayor Steve Patterson recalled his time as a professor with an office in Porter Hall, witnessing incidents between pedestrians and vehicles. He said a study of the traffic showed about 1,300 pedestrians per hour and 750 to 1,000 vehicles hourly.

“This is a project where its intent…was to correct the safety issue that we see down there,” Patterson told council. “I hope council supports this in going through, this is the right thing to do to make a correction.”

The project will go through two more readings before it is formally approved.