'This is about saving lives'

Zoe Greszler • Jan 10, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Convenience or safety? That seems to be the initial debate about a proposed roundabout for the intersection of U.S. 20 and Ohio 601.

The Huron County Safe Communities Coalition held a discussion forum on the topic Thursday morning at Huron County Public Health’s headquarters.

Many questions were asked and opinions offered during the two-hour event attended by about 50 people.

Voiced concerns involved semis navigating the circle, traffic flow capacity, Summit Motorsports Park event traffic, R+L Carriers and its semis, and the effect on area businesses.

Some asked whether other options could be considered for the intersection. In answer to that, coalition officials said various counter measures — including traffic lights, left turn lanes and LED stop signs or overhead flashers — had been discussed.


‘Very preliminary’ planning

Research and discussions with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) resulted in both organizations agreeing a roundabout “is what’s best for this location,” coalition coordinator Lindsey Leber said.

“Though it’s the most expensive option, it does have the highest rate of success in preventing the angle crashes, which are the type of crashes that result in the most severe injuries and fatalities, which we see here,” she said. “A roundabout would also have smaller delay time (compared to the other options).”

While community members raised many concerns about the specifics, including dynamics and metrics and whether they could accommodate large semis or trailers, Leber and ODOT engineer Julie Cichello said the state agency designs the roundabouts after taking measurements not just of the roadways and surrounding areas but also after working and talking with businesses. Cichello said the roundabout can be constructed to fit the specific needs.

“They’re going to work with whatever community it’s going in,” Cichello said. “If (the largest truck regularly expected to come through the area) is an 80-foot rig, they’ll make sure that it can get in and around in a safe manner.” 

“Remember that there are no definites, and nothing is finalized,” Leber said. “This is just a very preliminary discussion. We wanted to get your input. Our concern is safety. We’re not going to put a countermeasure in that’s going to cause more accidents.”


What’s a life worth?

Some were concerned about a wait time to enter the circle or what would happen during special events that might take place at the raceway, located near the intersection of Ohio 61 and Ohio 18. Cichello said ODOT and the local law enforcement would help to ease the high rate of traffic during special events, but the coalition encouraged the community to keep “the big picture” in mind.

“At the end of the day … the biggest concern should be about safety,” said Huron County Sheriff Todd Corbin, who serves on the coalition. “People talk about the inconvenience and these other things, well the speculation, conjecture and personal opinion — you have to take that out of it and look at the bigger picture.

“As you can hear all the different opinions and questions and concerns, maybe more than one lane is necessary. Again, this is all preliminary. And again, you have Bill Bader, who was here from Summit Motorsports, people that are here from R&L, Smith Paving, people from a lot of businesses that are concerned about that intersection — because if they slow down in production, obviously that’s going to slow down their business — but at the same time I think they are conscious of the safety of these people but also at the same want to make sure they don’t incur unnecessary, unexpected costs.”

Lt. Charles Gullett, Norwalk post commander for the state Highway Patrol, also serves on the coalition. He emphasized Corbin’s point in answer to one resident’s question, asking each person to imagine their family being affected by a fatal crash.

“In no way are we saying this is going to be the end-all solution for all crashes here,” he said. “And these are very valid questions. They’re very personal questions, and how it’s going to effect you. I get that. We’re looking at an even broader picture, though, and how people actually die at this intersection.

“That’s personal to me and that’s very personal to the families that are affected by that. Even if it’s just one person, just imagine if it’s someone from your family dying at this intersection. You may be inconvenienced a bit every time you come up to the roundabout, but just imagine the time that that family is ‘inconvenienced’ considering they have to live with the fact that that loved one is not coming home anymore. So we get it. It’s not perfect, but we can work together to work through it as we have in the past. We need to work together on this and focus on the safety.”


‘Education is the key’

Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director Art Mead said he felt the discussion went well Thursday, adding that “education is the key.” Mead said many who walked into the meeting opposing the idea learned it might not be so bad. 

“I think you saw toward the end, in the second part of our program today, most of those people who were dissenters, after they were educated, they were starting to agree, starting to say, ‘Hey, that makes sense. As long as we can address these couple issues, and we don’t have to worry about it, we’d be on board for it.’ People just need educated on it.”

Corbin said the discussion was good for the coalition, and that more should be held in the future as the meeting presented some new ideas and arguments the coalition might further consider. He emphasized again “nothing is set in stone; it’s not even slated.” 

“This is about saving lives,” the sheriff added. “If you look at the traffic crashes at State Route 601 and 20, having that many fatalities in that area; something has to change — whether it is a roundabout or a traffic light or something else — we just know that the stop signs aren’t working and we need to do something.”

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