ELYRIA — Fed up with traffic at state Route 57 and Chestnut Ridge Road, Lorain County motorists have started an internet petition to get the city and the Ohio Department of Transportation to do something about the intersection.
City and ODOT officials said this week they know the situation is not optimal, but multiple traffic studies and development are in progress there.
“ODOT needs to help Elyria and Lorain County citizens with one of the worst traffic situations in our area,” reads the petition at MoveOn.org. “The intersection of State Route 57 and Chestnut Ridge needs help. ODOT, please approve a new access to State Route 57 north of the Walmart property and build a new entrance and exit at that point. Work with EPA, Elyria and Lorain County governments to fix this problem.”
The petition had 793 signatures as of 6 p.m. Friday. ODOT is familiar with it, spokeswoman Crystal Neelon said Thursday.
Fixing the traffic flow will cost time and money. Neither the city nor ODOT can act unilaterally to approve the construction of a new entrance or exit onto the “limited access” highway that is Route 57. It takes multiple steps for such an entrance to be considered, an ODOT official said, requiring careful study, time, money and patience.
Julie Cichello, a traffic engineer for ODOT District 3, said property owners must make a request for a break in a limited-access right of way. The property owner also would be responsible for getting studies done to justify the work and potentially reimbursing the federal government the money it spent.
“As far as a new driveway, the whole process can be a two-year process once the property owner does their study. We’d review it to see if we agree or not, and then we’d send it to Columbus and Columbus would have to review and approve and then it would have to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration, since federal money was used to purchase access rights,” Cichello said.
The property owner would “have to reimburse (the federal government) for the right of way with interest and with the property value increases. So it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Elyria City Engineer John Schneider said.
ODOT and the city have been working on the issue since at least 2016, but with further development planned in the area, Cichello said ODOT continues to work with those developing the area. Ideas including extending Sugar Lane through protected wetlands or building a second entrance/exit behind Walmart were rejected.
Additionally, a consultant for the city gave some options that proved pricey. In the summer of 2016, city officials considered the option of adding a legal U-turn — also known as a “Michigan left turn” — such as would allow a motorist to enter state Route 57, make a right turn onto Chestnut Ridge Road and then travel on a roundabout into Chestnut Commons.
Such traffic patterns are common in Michigan, but less so in Ohio. The cost of such a project also is high: In 2016, the estimate for such a design was projected at $3.8 million, a cost the city couldn’t afford to absorb on its own.
The city has informed ODOT it plans to apply for funding through that agency “either later this year or the beginning of next year to see if they can get some safety funds,” Cichello said.
“I know they want to move forward with the recommended countermeasures within the 2016 safety study, but the city engineer wasn’t ready to apply,” she said.
“It’s very expensive,” Schneider said Friday. “We might leverage funds with (tax increment financing) to help with the cost out there, but we have to put all those numbers together. It’s very complicated.”
A TIF uses future property tax increases for economic development or public projects.
Ongoing development in the area includes K. Hovnanian Homes’ 254-unit Four Seasons at Chestnut Ridge,
55-and-older community north of Chestnut Ridge Road and east of Bender Road, as well as a secretive mixed-use development south of Chestnut Ridge that Mayor Holly Brinda teased in her State of the City Address last month that she said would be worth $100 million.
The traffic studies in 2016 didn’t include any of that, nor any proposed growth south of the intersection, Schneider said.
“Our safety study didn’t include that development. The developer to the south has submitted a traffic study to ODOT, a new one, and it included an additional lane on Chestnut Ridge Road as well as an access point on 57 south of Chestnut Ridge Road,” he said. “But that (study) is still at ODOT. As to whether it’s permissible or not, we are working on a few things up there.”