The Ohio Department of Transportation has proposed a project aimed at reducing the risk of severe crashes at an Athens County intersection.

The proposal focuses on the closure of the Johnson Road connection to U.S. Rt. 33, beginning in the construction season of 2021. The cost of the improvement project is estimated at $250,000, ODOT stated on the project’s website.

The median at the intersection would be closed and the existing left turn lanes would be removed. The River Road connection would remain as a “right in-right out” (where movements would be restricted to right turns). Motorists formerly using the intersection would then use the Rt. 682 interchange and the Rt. 682 corridor through The Plains, ODOT stated.

In a digital presentation about the proposed safety project, ODOT District 10 Engineer Eric Davis stated the overall goal of the project is to improve safety and reduce crashes in that area.

Ultimately, the closure of the Johnson Road connection could decrease the number of “conflict points” in that vicinity. Conflict points occur where paths of different movement cross; thus, the fewer conflict points, the fewer opportunities for cars to come in contact with one another while traveling.

“With the current proposal to remove the mainline left turn lanes and to close off Johnson Road, there will only be two conflict points: one for traffic turning right off of westbound US 33 onto River Road, and one for traffic turning right from River Road onto westbound US 33,” said Ashley Rittenhouse, who serves as the ODOT District 10 public information officer.

There were 26 crashes at the intersection between 2009 and 2018. In 2019, the intersection saw three crashes that resulted from a motorist making a left turn; one crash occurred after a 16-year-old girl turned left in front of oncoming freeway traffic, from U.S. Rt. 33 to Johnson Road. A fourth crash that year occurred when a motorist was rear-ended while in the left-turn lane. Davis said this was a concerning pattern, as motorists in these severe crashes were making legal turns.

Much of the proposed improvement project is geared toward redistributing traffic, a necessity when conflict points are removed and certain movements are restricted, according to Davis.

Right turns from Johnson Road to U.S. Rt. 33 would be redistributed to the U.S. Rt. 33 eastbound entrance ramp from Rt. 682 northbound. Left turns from Rt. 33 would be changed to the U.S. Rt. 33 westbound exit ramp with a left turn onto Rt. 682, the ODOT project website states.

ODOT considered other methods to adress safety in the area. For example, the department looked into only closing the median and turning Johnson Road into a right-in-right-out style of intersection. The department also considered adding a right-turn lane or acceleration lane to Route 33 eastbound.

The acceleration lane idea came with multiple setbacks, Davis said. An acceleration lane set-up is “not typical” for an at-grade intersection, and the transportation department worried it could potentially cause issues with driver expectancy.

“Drivers could continue to enter the intersection from a stop instead of using the acceleration lane,” Davis noted.

Finally, an acceleration lane requires at least 1,560 feet of pathway. Approximately 950 feet from the intersection rests a bridge; thus, the transportation department didn’t have enough space to create the acceleration lane.

The transportation department thus recommended the closure of the Johnson Road connection to Route 33. In addition, the department will remove the left-turn lanes from both eastbound and westbound Route 33. Median pavement will be removed, and a turnaround on Johnson Road will also be constructed. Johnson Road traffic would move to the State Route 682 corridor, and River Road would remain a right-in-right-out.

This section of Route 33 is no stranger to safety projects, Davis outlined. In 1997, all movements were permitted in the intersection: motorists could turn right or left driving off of connections. This set-up resulted in a high number of conflict points, ODOT estimating 42 total. Three years later, signs prohibiting left turns and thru movements from Johnson and River Run Roads were installed. This chiseled down the conflict points from 42 to 14.

In 2013, directional bollards were installed at the intersection. Davis noted the bollards were installed to discourage drivers from moving in prohibited directions and to physically reinforce a left turn. This safety measure did not change the number of conflict points.

ODOT requests public input on the proposed project. Area residents can submit comments to the transportation department on their website.

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