Construction on a $1.1 million, first-of-its-kind roundabout is complete and the intersection of Ohio 235 and 41 is now open to traffic after months of closures.
Parts of Ohio 41 were closed for about 80 days as the Ohio Department of Transportation worked at the dangerous Pike Twp. intersection. The traffic pattern change was made after years of serious and fatal crashes at the crossing of the two state routes.
“It will hopefully eliminate fatalities,” said Pike Twp. Trustee Greg Kaffenbarger. “If not, severely reduce them. Unfortunately there’s just been too many deaths at that intersection and we need to put a stop to it.”
No crashes or traffic problems were reported over the weekend. The only concern Kaffenbarger said he has for the completed project is that oversize loads and large farming equipment, such as wide tractors and combines, might have difficulty navigating the roundabout’s narrow path.
ODOT will monitor the roundabout’s performance, ODOT spokeswoman Mandi Dillon said, and engineers don’t expect that any changes to the intersection’s design will be needed.
The intersection has been the site of at least two fatalities and nine serious injury crashes between 2009 and 2011.
Carol Trissel lives about a mile from the intersection and said in the 14 years since her family has lived in their home, there have been four fatal crashes. She worries every time she hears sirens that it could be her husband or someone she knows involved in a crash.
Trissel began her push to petition for a change to the intersection after Tracy Walkup, 49, of Tipp City, was killed on June 26, 2012. That fatality was the the fifth at the intersection since 1992 — more than any other intersection countywide.
“When (Walkup) was killed, I drove by and saw a black truck that was the same kind of truck my husband drives and I was terrified,” she said. “That was the last straw.”
The design of the roundabout was selected to make drivers slow down as they approach the roundabout, said Scott Schmid, director of the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee. The circular intersection has a curved approach that should force motorists to slow down to about 30 mph to navigate it, he said.
“Any crashes there will be less severe just because of speed alone,” Schmid said.
Crashes in a roundabout aren’t 90 degree, or T-bone, collisions as they were in the old intersection, he added, and any crashes would likely be fender-benders or less severe side swipes.
The roundabout is the first in Clark County — and the first in the state — where two state routes with a speed limit of 55 mph meet on all four sides, ODOT said.
The project was paid for with federal money. ODOT didn’t reply to requests for the final cost of the project on Monday.
Most of the opposition to the project before construction started came with complaints about the cost, Trissel said.
“But what kind of price can you put on a human life?” she said.
At open meetings, many residents brought suggestions of alternative, less expensive options to put in the intersection besides the roundabout, Kaffenbarger said. But ODOT told residents they have tried many of those options without success.
ODOT changed the size of a hill on the road in the 1970s; in 1980, officials placed rumble strips and dual stop ahead signs on the road; in the early 1990s, red flashing lights on stop signs were installed; in 2000 a traffic light was installed and in 2011 back plates were put in place to help drivers see the traffic signal.
In 1988, the intersection was listed by the Highway Safety Improvement Program as one of the most dangerous and ODOT has ranked it consistently as a high risk rural road.
Officials said the traffic signal reduced the overall crash totals from 45 between 1992 and 1999 to 39 total crashes from 2001 to 2010. But the signal had little impact on severe crashes.
“Roundabouts are a proven intersection treatment to reduce serious and fatal crashes,” Dillon said.
Crashes at the intersection are likely to continue, Kaffenbarger said, just as they are likely on any road.
“I don’t believe it’s going to reduce fender benders … but you can get your car fixed, you can’t have your life back,” he said.