Austin Boulevard 'traffic fix' being discussed

New right turn, southbound lane planned

The Ohio Department of Transportation wants to begin work on traffic problems at Austin Boulevard and Ohio 741 — contrary to consultants’ advice.

Within two years, ODOT plans to add a continuous right turn lane from Austin Boulevard eastbound onto Ohio 741, as well as another southbound lane on Ohio 741 leading into Springboro.

The project was among actions suggested by a consultant hired by the state to study traffic problems at the intersection.

“We’ve decided to move forward and build that piece of it,” ODOT Traffic Engineer Craig Eley said.

Calls for action at the intersection began when traffic started backing up at peak traffic times soon after the interchange opened in 2010. Almost immediately, some traffic counts were more than 10,000 cars a day above projections and at levels unanticipated for 30 years, sparking concerns the delays would worsen as development continued.

So far there is no construction funding or even a cost estimate for the project, Eley said.

“I’m fairly confident we’ll get funding,” he said.

While funding could come next year, the improvements are unlikely to be in place for 18-24 months, Eley said.

“That’s pretty quick in the ODOT world,” said David Vomacka, a transportation consultant and a Springboro City Council member who lives just south of the intersection. “It’s good they’re doing something. There’s a lot more to do.”

After suggesting the additional right turn and dual left turn lanes, ME Companies, a consulting company paid $22,000 to study traffic problems around the intersection — just east of the new $40 million Austin Boulevard interchange — recommended taking no action in a report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

ODOT’s plan to nonetheless undertake the partial fix was applauded by Vomacka, who was opposed to the consultants’ recommended inaction. 

“It is going to get worse, much worse even though that is hard to imagine. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will get,” Vomacka said in an email after reading the study.

In addition to the eastbound right turn lane from Austin onto Ohio 741 which ODOT plans to do, ME found the addition of dual northbound left turn lanes from Ohio 741 onto Austin Boulevard would alleviate problems at the intersection.

However their report recommended delaying all construction, noting improvements to traffic flow including tweaks to traffic lights and signs. The consultant also questioned whether the suggested improvements would create other problems, including a “weaving issue” without other changes at the I-75 northbound entrance ramp.

In recommending no immediate action, the study also noted the potential implications of development at the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport, including the new $16.5 million Connor Group HQ, and other developments south on Ohio 741 leading into Springboro. The study also said the possible unavailability of right of way could block the proposed fixes.

Like ME, ODOT favors waiting for completion of the ongoing road work and an additional study of potential effects on the entire intersection before adding the suggested left turn lanes, Eley said.

“We kind of want to see what happens with traffic volumes,” he said.

No traffic problems were reported on Black Friday.

Meanwhile development, along with decorative signs and landscaping at the intersections, continues along Austin Boulevard and Ohio 741, leading from the interchange.

ODOT is still mulling how far down Ohio 741 to extend the new southbound lane, Eley said. He estimated a half-acre of land would be needed for right of way for the project. Cost estimates and decisions about where to seek funding should come after the project has been designed.

Randy Gunlock, president of RG Properties, the company handling the $150 million Austin Landing development on the northeast corner of the intersection, didn’t respond to questions about the report. Earlier this year, Gunlock said his company would be willing to sell more land for road improvements, if necessary.

The continuous flow intersection offers drivers an alternative to traditional turns from Austin to Ohio 741. At the intersection, lanes curving northwest and southeast are designed to maintain traffic flow. It is Ohio’s first continuous flow intersection, seen as an innovative alternative design capable of handling higher traffic counts than traditional designs where drivers turn upon reaching the intersection. A second one is planned at Ohio 125 and Five Mile Road in Hamilton County.

After studying a full, four-pronged continuous flow design, the state opted against it for the lanes from Ohio 741 onto Austin, saving $3 million and preserving more land for development.

However traffic problems from opening day prompted ODOT to hire ME to look for solutions. ODOT originally expected to have ME’s findings last February.

“Come February we’ll have a better idea what we’re going to be looking at. Everything is a work in progress with this development,” Eley said earlier this year after the state commissioned the study.

Instead ODOT began analyzing ME’s study in April. The 64-page report, dated July 2012, was released to the Dayton Daily News in mid-November.

“There’s been a lot of eyes on the report,” Eley said.

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