A traffic signal could eventually stop motorists at one of Prairie Township's most dangerous intersections -- but not until traffic in the area reaches a certain "tipping point," according to Franklin County Traffic Engineer Michael Meeks.
Hilliard-Rome Road at Beacon Hill Road-Hillbrook Drive is ranked as Franklin County's "most dangerous" intersection without a traffic signal, according to a "Local Road Safety Plan" released by the Franklin County Engineer's Office in September.
The West Side crossing is among 20 county intersections -- 10 with traffic signals, 10 without -- named in the plan, which county Engineer Cornell R. Robertson said is part of a new planning approach that will help his office refocus efforts and better communicate with residents and public officials on work that needs to be completed.
"It helps us prioritize," Robertson said.
Meeks said the plan is designed to help engineers track data and plan for future safety improvements.
"We separate out those intersections that are signalized and those that are not signalized because they behave differently," he said. "Generally speaking, we take three-year averages. In this case, that was 2016, 2015 and 2014 data."
There were 23 crashes at the Hilliard-Rome-Beacon Hill-Hillbrook intersection over the course of those three years, he said.
About 17,000 vehicles travel through the intersection daily, according to county data.
The roads are under the county's jurisdiction but the engineer's office typically seeks input from local governments, officials said.
Prairie Township trustees unanimously approved a resolution in October supporting the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection, but Meeks said it could take two years or longer before one is installed.
That's because the county's rankings are just starting points for figuring out future projects, he said. The intersections on the list are all expected to receive some type of improvement -- anything from passive work such as cutting trees to more involved projects such as major construction or installing traffic signals.
In the case of the Hilliard-Rome-Beacon Hill-Hillbrook intersection, a signal will become more important as more vehicles use the roads and more development comes to the area, Meeks said.
It takes about a month to install a traffic signal and would cost the county about $225,000, he said.
Engineers normally start with "low-cost" measures at what Meeks calls the county's "problem children" intersections. Those measures include things such as trimming trees and brush away to improve visibility -- which has already been done at the Prairie Township intersection -- and adding bigger stop signs.
Installing turn lanes on Beacon Hill Road is not a good option "because the homes are so close," he said.
Franklin County will continue to monitor traffic counts and crash data, but Meeks said he expects the intersection will warrant a traffic signal within a few years, particularly as land to the north along Hilliard-Rome Road is developed.
"My expectation is that if the traffic growth and crashes grow at the rate they are now, that'd be probably two to three years from now," he said.
Columbus Dispatch reporter Marc Kovac contributed to this story.