Updated Sun, May 11, 2014 7:55 am
Athens could in the next couple years become home to a traffic pattern concept that has only been used in one other location in the state of Ohio — a diverging diamond interchange.
On Thursday evening, city and Ohio Department of Transportation officials — with the help of consultants with Parsons Brinckerhoff — discussed alternative traffic patterns for the East State Street and Route 33 interchange.
The meeting was held at the Athens Community Center to gather feedback from the public.
The two top alternatives being proposed include vehicles traveling in the opposite lanes of traffic between the eastbound and westbound Route 33 ramps on East State Street.
ODOT has been studying the Route 33/50/32 interchange for the past year and a half and decided it was best to tackle the Route 33 and East State interchange first.
There have been issues of traffic from Route 33 backing up on the exit ramp to East State Street.
Andy Stone, director of the Athens Department of Engineering and Public Works, said that the current interchange was constructed in 1970 and that traffic has continued to increase over the decades. He said the number of vehicles will continue to rise since the Nelsonville Bypass opened earlier this year.
The consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff said that three alternatives were proposed for the section of East State Street. The first — and most likely — would utilize a diverging diamond interchange with the existing exit ramps.
This option is expected to cost approximately $3.4 million to construct.
The second alternative would also use the diverging diamond interchange, but eliminate the existing cloverleaf ramp that is utilized by motorists leaving East State Street to access the westbound lanes of Route 33 (going toward Columbus). Instead, a new straight exit ramp would be constructed from the north side of East State Street through property currently owned by Athens County Children Services to connect to the westbound lanes of Route 33.
This scenario would cost approximately $5 million to construct — of which $2 million would be spent on the new exit ramp.
This option would also require additional right-of-way to be purchase from Children Services for an estimated $620,000.
A third alternative would have included a roundabout, but it was determined that this option wouldn’t have efficiently solved vehicle congestion concerns at the interchange.
ODOT estimates that approximately 29,000 vehicles travel on East State Street per day.
The highest traffic count is on Saturdays as people utilize the business corridor for shopping and the Athens Farmers Market.
ODOT spokesman David Rose said the only other intersection in Southeast Ohio with that kind of volume is the interchange of Route 7 and Pike Street in Marietta.
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 City Councilman Steve Patterson asked the consultants about the learning curve for drivers in the proposed new traffic pattern.
Jared Love of Parsons Brinckerhoff said that the curbs and medians would be designed in a way that would make it difficult for motorists to make mistakes without driving over the curbs.
Love also said that the diverging diamond traffic pattern has shown as much as a 50 percent decrease in traffic accidents after a year of implementation. He expected the same to occur in Athens.
Since the proposed traffic pattern change would rely heavily on traffic signals, Athens resident Mike Hunter asked what would happen if there was a power outage.
Stone said that his department hopes to utilize more battery-powered LED traffic lights that could last up to 8 hours without electricity.
Stone added that in the event of an extended power outage — such as when the derecho hit a few years ago — a power generator could be used to recharge those batteries.
In addition to the traffic pattern changes, it is also proposed that a sidewalk be placed on the south side of East State Street from East Park Drive (near the Athens Community Center) to Walmart.
This is expected to cost about $376,000.
Stone said that landscaping could be incorporated where there is room, but that some of the sections of right-of-way are too narrow to include both a sidewalk and landscaping.
According to Stone, he hopes that the project will move forward in 2016, paired with paving of East State Street.
ODOT is currently evaluating additional changes to the Route 33/50/32 interchange, but decided that the Route 33 and East State interchange was the most urgent.
The public is encouraged to provide feedback on the proposals for East State Street by contacting Eric Davis, studies engineer at ODOT, at 568-4312, emailing Eric.Davis@dot.state.oh.us or by mail at 338 Muskingum Drive, Marietta, OH 45750.
The proposals will also be available on the city’s website, www.ci.athens.oh.us, next week.