Wednesday, May 7, 2008

City hung up on environmental, financial cost of Richland renovation

Ashlee Monroe

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl says the only thing stopping the city from making a decision on how to renovate the Richland Avenue/State Route 682 intersection is a review of the environmental impacts of the project and the cost. The city is considering two options for the intersection: either a roundabout or a more traditional four-way intersection similar to the current one.
The city has $3 million in grants from the Ohio Department of Transportation to work with. The funding will not only be used for the intersection. The project will renovate the area the city identifies as the Richland Avenue Corridor – from Dairy Lane to President Street. The bridge over the Hocking River on Richland Avenue is also included in the project.
Wiehl said that he would prefer building a roundabout and then a separate pedestrian bridge over the Hocking River in addition to the existing traffic bridge. But he said the pedestrian bridge alone would cost more than half a million dollars, and the city does not have the money to build it in addition to the new intersection.

See video of the intersection; hear Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl talk about the details of the Richland Avenue renovation project.

Wiehl said he would like to see the roundabout option pass as well because the constant flow of traffic would prevent pollution because each car wouldn’t be idling at the intersection waiting for the light to turn.
Street Director Andy Stone said he prefers the roundabout because he thinks it will be the most efficient and the least expensive. He said the biggest hang-up for the city is waiting for an environmental review to see how the renovation will affect the run-off into the Hocking River next to part of the Richland Avenue Corridor among other impacts. He said that under the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, a project like this is a long process.
“Whenever federal dollars are spent on a project, some very stringent guidelines have to be followed when you’re looking at different alternatives,” Stone said. “That includes a certain amount of public input.”
One thing is for sure, Stone said. No matter which scenario the city picks, the new design will cut into the park on Richland Avenue. He said the only part that will be affected, though, is the northwest corner of the park, which is an open field and a drain-off into the Hocking River.
Wiehl and Stone said that the city should reach a decision on the construction in less than a month. Then construction should start in 2009, and complete in 2010, Wiehl said.

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