Olentangy Valley News

Traffic signal for downtown train crossing OK'd

Work will begin in 2015; effect of nearby 'pork chop' to limit turns debated

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Powell City Council approved a fix last week for a railroad crossing deemed dangerous by the city's police department.

The council voted unanimously at its July 15 meeting to allow the Ohio Rail Development Commission to install a queue-cutter traffic signal at the intersection of the CSX railroad tracks and Olentangy Street just west of the city's Municipal Building.

"The Ohio Rail Development Commission will pay for the queue cutter, which is an $80,000-$90,000 improvement, and the city will be responsible for ... any other improvements that will be necessary," City Manager Steve Lutz said.

Work on the project is expected to begin in 2015.

The new traffic signal will turn red as space on the east side of the track begins running out, so eastbound drivers don't run out of room and end up stuck on the rails when traffic is congested.

Two cars became stuck on the tracks in November and had to drive through the railroad gate arm to escape the path of an oncoming train.

Police Chief Gary Vest has said no amount of education or tickets will keep drivers from getting caught on the tracks. He said that situation eventually would lead to death if a solution is not implemented.

City and rail commission officials have been in discussions to install a fix at the intersection since shortly after that near-collision occurred. The talks hinged on what traffic improvements the city would be willing to make in order for a queue-cutter signal to be effective.

The improvements the city will pay for may be limited to the installation of a traffic island, or "pork chop," at the nearby intersection of Olentangy and Depot streets in Powell.

City and rail commission officials agreed left turns needed to be prohibited at that intersection in order for the queue cutter to operate effectively. A temporary pork chop designed by the city was installed in June, but some council members have debated its effectiveness.

By mid-July, the police department had issued seven citations to drivers attempting to turn left into the right-in, right-out intersection created by the pork chop.

"People are proving they're not intending to honor the pork chop," Councilman Jon Bennehoof said.

Powell Mayor Jim Hrivnak said he thought "by and large (the pork chop) is working."

Lutz said a traffic island will never be 100 percent effective at blocking left turns at the intersection. He added some council members and area business owners objected to the idea of blocking access to the street completely with a barricade.

Lutz said the permanent solution for the intersection of Depot and Olentangy streets ultimately will be up to council.

"That's something we've talked about in the past and can continue to talk about," he said.

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