7th, Pike project: Left turn is in

The proposed project to improve traffic and pedestrian safety at Marietta’s Seventh, Pike and Greene streets intersection was given a preliminary green light by city council members during a streets and transportation committee meeting Tuesday, with one major change.

Six of the seven councilmen polled during the meeting (Councilman Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, could not attend) agreed to have city engineer Joe Tucker proceed to the final design phase of the project after Ohio Department of Transportation officials said they would allow traffic to continue making the left turn from north Seventh Street onto Greene Street.

“ODOT was ready to fold this project up and let it go, but we contacted them about this and they’ve come back with the left turn being allowed from Seventh onto Greene Street, which was the biggest issue for this project,” Mayor Joe Matthews announced during Tuesday’s meeting.

Original plans for the intersection upgrade called for elimination of the left from Seventh to Greene due to sight distance issues, according to ODOT officials who, until last week, said that left turn would have to go or the project could not proceed.

But that was a major concern for residents and businesses in the Norwood district because prohibiting the left turn would force drivers to take the four-lane Pike Street well out of their way in order to access homes and business locations in Norwood.

Several business owners approached council last month and voiced their objections to the proposed elimination of the left turn, saying the change would inconvenience customers and have a direct impact on their businesses.

Caught between the public outcry and ODOT’s insistence on eliminating the turn, it appeared that council might have to scrap the entire project which would also mean the loss of state and federal funding for the $3.2 million intersection upgrade.

“The majority of that money is from ODOT safety funds,” Tucker explained Tuesday. “They have a say in the project because they’re writing the biggest check. But they’re also very aware of the public’s concern about the left turn from Seventh onto Greene.”

After discussions with ODOT last week, the city administration and engineering department were able to have the project design changed so that the left turn could remain.

Tucker said the design change would also likely cut the construction cost of the project to around $2 million instead of $3.2 million, with the majority of that funding still coming from ODOT safety funds and the Wirt, Wood, Washington Interstate Planning Commission.

“I’m very excited that we can finally obtain a green light from council to make the improvements at this intersection,” Tucker said. “And our local match for the project will be dependent on the total construction cost. We’re now probably looking at a $2 million project and a city match of about $89,000.”

Council president Walt Brothers said the safety upgrade is a very important project, noting the intersection has been rated the second-most dangerous in the city.

“This is going to improve pedestrian access and safety and it will also improve traffic flow through the intersection,” he said. “And after this project we will be able to deal with the Williamstown Bridge intersection.”

Brothers said he was concerned that the project would not be approved and the city would lose the state and federal funding, noting the city would still have to make some improvements to the intersection anyway.

“This is simply the green light to move to final design before that money goes away,” he said, adding that the amount of government funding for such projects is growing smaller every year.

The announcement was apparently satisfactory to the small crowd of Norwood residents and business owners who attended Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“I think this is an incredible home run for the community,” said Brett Frye, whose dental practice is located on Greene Street.

He thanked Tucker and engineering department project manager Eric Lambert for their patience and professionalism in answering questions he had about the intersection project.

“And Councilman Denver Abicht deserves a lot of credit for a great job in educating the public and listening to our concerns,” Frye said.

Grant Wharton and Matt Herridge with Charton Management, Inc., also thanked Tucker, the administration and council for working to keep the left turn from Seventh to Greene open. Charton Management operates the Burger King on Pike Street.

“We’ve been planning to locate a new business at the former Movie Gallery lot and are fully supportive of this change to the intersection proposal,” Herridge said.

Last month Wharton and Herridge told council members that they have options to purchase the property on which the Movie Gallery and adjacent Shedding Shack are located. They said their goal is to bring 52 new jobs to Marietta with an investment of up to $4 million.

They preferred the Movie Gallery location at the Seventh, Pike and Greene intersection, but said the elimination of the left turn from Seventh to Greene could cause them to reconsider, noting they were also looking at a possible site in Parkersburg.

After Tuesday’s meeting Herridge said they would continue their plans for development of a restaurant and another business at the Marietta site.

Norwood resident Louise Gwinn also thanked the mayor and administration for working to keep the left turn open.

“You’ve pleased a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t think anyone in town thought eliminating that left turn was a good idea.”

Abicht, who chairs the streets and transportation committee, said he had initially voted in favor of the project as proposed because he felt the safety upgrades were in the community’s best interest.

“But the public came forward and has expressed what they wanted,” he said.

A formal vote to move ahead with the final design plans for the project will be scheduled for the next regular city council meeting March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the community building at Lookout Park.

Meanwhile Tucker said he would be meeting next week with the project consultant and ODOT District 10 officials to begin working toward the final design plan that he will present to council in the near future.