I was an eye-witness of the accident that happened on Oct. 10, 2019, when a vehicle turning left on Highway 33 toward Johnson Rd. was hit with full force by oncoming traffic. I completely agree that the left-turn option must be closed. This is a dangerous intersection and there are many inexperienced young drivers crossing in the morning to get to the high school, as was the case with the accident on Oct. 10. However, I strongly disagree with the solution ODOT has so far adopted by simply closing the intersection and I am proposing a different, better approach.
There are two main reasons for not closing Johnson Rd:
First, the traffic from and to the high school will then all go through The Plains, mostly through through Elm Street, which is a huge imposition on residents and also a major bottleneck. Particularly in the morning, it will slow down things considerably and make on-time arrival difficult, which is a known cause for thoughtless or even reckless driving behaviors among young drivers.
Second, the access to the Eclipse development and the related businesses will be seriously impeded. With the current ODOT plan, they would basically be at the end of a dead end street. This is a damaging approach to business development in an area that is already very deprived and urgently needs support, rather than obstacles.
I propose the following alternative plan that does not lead to the problems mentioned above:
1. Entirely close the middle divider on HW 33 so that left turns in either direction is impossible.
2. Use the right-turn exit to River Rd and connect it to a newly constructed one-way road between Rt. 33 and the Pine Aire Village Area. This road will then go under the existing highway bridge for crossing the highway and lead to Johnson Road right before the intersection of Johnson Rd. and Eclipse. This exit would not cause the detrimental effect on freeway operations that FHWA cites to discourage close spacing of interchanges, because the traffic coming from River Road is negligible and the new exit would be a one-way road and thus not create more traffic flow onto Rt. 33.
3. The River Road exit would also have a right-turn lane starting at the end of the highway bridge to ensure that traffic can flow even with high volume during school rush hours.
4. Reduce speed limit on Rt. 33 in the area of the intersection to 40 MPH and create an acceleration lane from Johnson road onto the highway. While this acceleration lane can’t be as long as needed for a full intersection under high-speed conditions, reducing the speed limit to 40 MPH would create a sufficiently safe situation for entering the highway from Johnson road.
I believe this is a sound option that combines high safety standards with a feasible solution that is business-friendly and that also defuses the traffic bottleneck that would occur particularly on Elm Street with the ODOT plan.
B.D. is a long-time citizen of Athens with a high-school aged son. He is also a professor of Journalism at Ohio University.