SIDNEY — There wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the public meeting on the State Route 47 Improvement Project at the Senior Center of Sidney-Shelby County Thursday night.
Over 200 people gathered to hear preliminary design plans on the project and voice their opinion. The meeting was to get public input on the project aimed to improve safety and travel for vehicles and non-motorized traffic, as well as enhance aesthetics along the stretch of road between Fourth Avenue and Walnut Avenue on state Route 47.
Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough opened with the meeting agenda and ask attendees not to repeat questions and keep comments to three minutes before turning it over to The Mannik Smith Group Chief Planner Pat Etchie and Project Manager Raymond Luk, whom led the remainder of the meeting.
Luk explained various options of the proposed plan. It included a median design change by replacing the current guardrail with trees and vegetation and a “Road Diet,” which is the reduction of four-lanes down to two-lanes and the addition of bike paths on both sides of the roadway leading into the downtown district. The plan includes an upgraded mast arm signal pole at Walnut Avenue for increased visibility. Five alternatives were proposed for dealing with potential dangers at the Wilkinson Avenue intersection, and they are:
• No changes — which wouldn’t fix the danger issue;
• A single-lane roundabout at Wilkinson Avenue;
• Only allow a right turn onto state Route 47 for northbound Wilkinson Avenue and eliminating through traffic across Wilkinson Avenue;
• Only allow a right turn from any direction on state Route 47 or Wilkinson Avenue;
• Eliminating access to state Route 47 from Wilkinson Avenue completely.
Opinions expressed were overwhelmingly against the roundabout. Although several people agreed some improvements are necessary, many people were completely opposed to the entire project. Lane reduction and the addition of the bike path were highly opposed, as well.
“The state will not reduce the speed limit because of the limited access. — Am I the only one who thinks it’s goofy to send us $3.1 million to put a roundabout in, but they wont reduce the speed limit,” said one lively resident.
Sidney resident Greg Collier said he wanted to go on the record as being strongly opposed to the project. He came with an arsenal of information to rebut the project, saying he worked 31 of nearly 35 years in the highway industry with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and was responsible for improvements to enhance highway safety.
Collier said from his research on ODOT’s transportation data management system website, traffic volume increased by 9.5 percent per day from Fourth Avenue to Walnut Avenue in 2015, which wasn’t part of the statistics included for the project. He said reducing lanes down to two will back up traffic each way. He also said the amount of crashes included in the corridor’s data is inaccurate, because it includes the area west of Interstate 75 to east of Walnut. He went on to say it is a bad idea to raise the median and planting vegetation by pointed to the city of Dayton’s experience in which he said all of the plants died due to mainly roadway salt. He also pointed out a bike path “along the curb will only create a false sense of security for bicyclists” and that it violates the law for a vehicle to operate on a bike path (if it needs to move to the side for First Responders).
When Collier exceeded his allotted time at the microphone another attendee took his notes to the back of the line to finish his point after the crowd urged him to continue on despite his time limit.
Chris Gibbs, of Maplewood, expressed concern, as farmer, with the reduction of the lanes down to two on state Route 47 by explaining that it took until nearly Wilson Health to get his truck up to 35 MPH when hauling a full load of grain from the downtown. He said he was passed by numerous cars on separate occasions when hauling grain along his route, and that if people want to pass, they will use the bike lane. He also said he believes this project began as a beautification project.
“I don’t mean (this) to be a smart comment, but … what this is for council — and it’s very enticing for council — this is a beautification project. The state does not do beautification projects. Those have to be done locally on their own. The only way for that to get leveraged, is to amplify the safety concerns,” Gibbs said. “That’s what’s happening here.”
Art Schmidt, of Sidney, said he thinks it is a stupid move to bottle neck the downtown and the questioned if the city was prepared for the extra impact on the north end of town.
“If this does go through, I hope the council has thought about that because I can see the election booth, and they’re going to lose a lot of positions,” Schmidt said, in front of a roaring crowd.
Numerous people struck down the idea of a roundabout. Others spoke of concerns of limiting Sidney’s economic growth with the lane reduction, to the unnecessary bike path, to concerns for large trucks navigating around the roundabout and gaining enough speed with ease up the westbound slope of state Route 47.
Clough said the PowerPoint presentation will be available on the city’s website. He also thanked everyone for attending and said they will continue to accept comment cards until April 14.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.