STATE ROUTE 46 ODOT considers residents' concerns



ODOT says the project will improve safety and reduce traffic delays.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Local residents have given mixed reviews on plans to widen state Route 46 in Austintown and Mineral Ridge.
The Ohio Department of Transportation said it received 32 written comments in favor of the plan and 21 opposed during and after a public meeting for the project March 11 in Austintown. Those comments and ODOT's responses were released this week.
ODOT also received 16 written comments in support of the plan and 40 opposed during and after a similar meeting July 10, 2002, in Mineral Ridge.
Jennifer Richmond, a spokeswoman for ODOT District 4, which includes Mahoning County, said the department takes the comments seriously.
"It's ODOT's job, particularly when there's lots of dollars involved, to do what's best for all users of that road," Richmond said.
Here's the plan
The plans call for ODOT to widen state Route 46 to as many as five lanes between Blunt and Seaborn streets in Mineral Ridge and New and Silica roads in Austintown. State Route 46 is two lanes in most areas.
A date for work to start on the Mineral Ridge section has not been set, and the cost of that work also has not been determined. Noel Mehlo, environmental specialist for District 4, said additional public meetings would be held before the work starts in Mineral Ridge.
Work on the Austintown section is expected to start in 2006 and cost about $6 million.
Federal and state regulations require ODOT to solicit public comments before work begins on a project. Mehlo said ODOT can change a project as a result of the comments.
Mehlo noted that ODOT has responded to comments made at the Mineral Ridge meeting by deciding to widen the road from the center line, instead of just adding lanes to the road's east side.
Several of the residents who supported the plan during and after the Austintown meeting said it has been needed for several years. ODOT did not say who made the comments.
"As stated by many, 'It is about 10 years late,'" one person commented. Another stated, "It's about time!"
Disadvantages foreseen
Some of those opposed to the project in Austintown and Mineral Ridge said widening the road will encourage speeding and lead to more accidents. They also expressed concern that the plan will attract unwanted commercial development to Austintown and increase traffic noise and litter in Mineral Ridge.
ODOT repeatedly stressed that the plans are designed to improve safety and reduce traffic delays by adding lanes to the road. It cited a study showing that 44 accidents occurred along the road in Austintown in 1999, 48 occurred in 1998, and 32 occurred in 1997.
A group of local residents and officials has suggested that ODOT change the plan so that Route 46 is widened into a boulevard with a grassy median with turn lanes at intersections. The group also has proposed building sidewalks and bike paths and installing underground utilities and streetlights.
ODOT is reviewing the group's proposals.
Fred Owens, president of the Austintown Growth Foundation and a member of the group, said the group wants ODOT to look at all options for the road's future before moving ahead with the plans. The group is concerned that widening Route 46 to five lanes would make it a freeway that would allow drivers to bypass Austintown.
Commercial development
Route 46 has been mentioned as a possible site for future commercial development in the township during meetings for 20/20-Austintown, an effort to create a plan for the township's future.
"What we need to do is reconcile that we're going to have a major highway with our vision for the future," Owens said. The growth foundation is paying for the 20/20-Austintown plan.
ODOT said 11 people who submitted written comments during and after the Route 46 meeting in Austintown expressed support for the group's proposal. Five of those people were members of the group, ODOT said.
"Why put five lanes of blacktop? It will become a true speedway. Why not walkways or foliage down the middle," a comment states. Another comment says that "if there is to be a widening, you should make it an asset to the community."
Other comments, however, show that not every local resident supports installing a median in the road.
"Tree-lined medians would make left-hand turns impossible except at intersections and would jeopardize commercial development along this corridor," a comment states.
hill@vindy.com

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