Hilliard city officials were poised to contract with Burgess & Niple to study potential modifications to roundabouts the engineering firm designed more than five years ago. However, Hilliard City Council on Feb. 27 put the brakes on a decision to use the firm to conduct the study.
Representatives from the engineering firm that designed Hilliard's back-to-back roundabouts on Main Street are being asked by Hilliard City Council to justify why they should be hired again to evaluate possible modifications to the intersections.
City Council members are expected to consider a resolution at 7 p.m. Monday, March 13, at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way, to appropriate $220,000 for a professional-services agreement with the Columbus-based engineering firm Burgess & Niple.
The ordinance was postponed Feb. 27 after council members challenged city officials for proposing to hire the same engineering firm that designed the roundabouts, which have had the highest number of accidents of any other intersections in the city since they were opened in 2011, according to a report from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
"I want (Burgess & Niple) to attend our meeting or otherwise provide an explanation why they are qualified to critique their own work," City Council Vice President Kelly McGivern said.
"We will have them here," Hilliard public-services director Butch Seidle said.
McGivern wasn't the only one who showed skepticism and concern about a potential conflict of interest.
Councilman Joe Erb said he would have voted against the resolution had a vote been called Feb. 27.
Likewise, Councilman Les Carrier said he did not support using Burgess & Niple without further consideration.
Councilman Tom Baker pressed Seidle about why the administration proposed to contract with Burgess & Niple.
"Why are we contracting (with the same firm) who designed them in the first place?" Baker asked.
Seidle said he and his staff members vetted several engineering firms and believe Burgess & Niple maintains the same expertise it had when designing the roundabouts and has "a team and the resources" to accomplish the task.
Seidle also defended the construction of the roundabouts on Main Street and other locations throughout the city, citing that the severity of accidents is diminished compared to other types of intersections.
"No one is running a red light and getting T-boned at 35 mph," he said.
Further, he said, the best designs for roundabouts are "still evolving" and Burgess & Niple brings that expertise to the table.
The city hired Burgess & Niple more than a decade ago and paid the firm a total of $2.2 million to design, plan and construct the massive renovation of the area locally known as "the Triangle," according to Letty Schamp, Hilliard's deputy city engineer.
Design work on the Triangle project began in 2005, right-of-way acquisition began in 2007 and construction began in 2010, she said.
The project included work between Bradford Drive and Heywood Drive on Scioto Darby Road and from Grace Street to just south of Scioto Darby Road on Main Street, Schamp said.
As part of the project, backup-prone traffic lights on Main Street were replaced by the two roundabouts.
Now, Schamp said, the study is being sought because the number of accidents at the Main Street roundabouts at Cemetery Road and Scioto Darby Road, as well as at Davidson Road and Britton Parkway, has not leveled off since the intersections became roundabouts.
She said the study would have two components: an examination of the roundabouts, including public outreach about proper procedures for use, and data on pedestrian traffic near the pair of Main Street roundabouts.
The Main Street roundabouts opened in fall 2011, Schamp said, and the one at Davidson Road and Britton Parkway opened in 2009.
A MORPC study released in July 2016 showed the roundabout at Main Street and Cemetery Road had the most accidents in Hilliard from 2013 to 2015 (233). It was followed by Main Street at Scioto Darby Road (141) and Davidson Road at Britton Parkway (72).
"It is frustrating to see the number of accidents," Councilman Bill Uttley said.
A message left seeking comment from Burgess & Niple chairman Ron R. Schultz was not returned for this story.