Johnson Road Exit Closure Raises Concerns For Residents, Businesses

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The highway exit near Athens High School connecting Johnson Road to Route 33 will soon close permanently, with major implications for traffic in The Plains.

The Ohio Department of Transportation says it is closing the exit to reduce accidents. As a result, the only way to Athens High School will be through 682, a road many worry can’t handle an influx of student drivers. Residents on Elm, which connects 682 to the high school, expressed concern that their narrow street may also become overcrowded.

Eclipse Company Store is is one of the businesses in The Plains that will be harder to reach once the Johnson Road exit closes.
Eclipse Company Store is is one of the businesses in The Plains that will be harder to reach once the Johnson Road exit closes. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Ashley Rittenhouse, public information officer for ODOT District 10, says the department has evaluated the impact of the closure and believes there’s nothing to fear. 

“We did study the 682 corridor through The Plains as part of proposing this project,” she said. “What our studies found with the software that we used is that the traffic impact will be minimal.” 

With the Johnson Road exit closed, there will be no direct access from the highway to the southeast side of The Plains. This may have implications for businesses there, particularly the Eclipse Company Store, a restaurant and beer hall that sits just off Johnson Road. Jim Stricklin, who is currently in talks to purchase the restaurant, expressed concern but feels Eclipse will survive regardless.

“You always worry,” he said. “What we’ve found with Eclipse is, it’s a destination. It’s not, oh, we’re driving down the road and we see that Eclipse is there. … We’ve got something that no one else offers. We’ve got that live stage and barbecue. There’s no other place in town.”

Stricklin said he hopes that a new route to the southeast side of The Plains may open up under the Route 33 bridge. That solution was one that ODOT also considered, according to Rittenhouse, but the department determined that the cost of such a project would be too high.

As for the usefulness of closing the exit, Stricklin voiced concerns similar to those of other residents. “All that’s going to happen is those accidents [at the Johnson Road exit] are now going to be moved up to 682, which is a two-lane road,” he said. “So when the accidents happen up there, that’s now going to shut down the entire flow through The Plains and up to Chauncey.”