AUSTINTOWN Group, ODOT debate road plan
The state is expected to start work on the road in 2005.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Local residents and officials are waiting to hear what the state thinks of turning state Route 46 into a boulevard.
"This is not about building a road. This is about building an economic plan for Austintown," said Fred Owens, president of the Austintown Growth Foundation.
"Our interest is that Austintown center, specifically the part that's marked by signs saying Austintown center, is treated as a community center."
Earlier this month, Owens and other local officials and residents met with representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation to discuss widening state Route 46 to include a grassy median with turn-lanes at intersections.
The group also has proposed building sidewalks and bikepaths and installing underground utilities and streetlights along the road.
ODOT has proposed widening Route 46 to five lanes between New Road and Norquest Boulevard. The New Road intersection would be widened to four lanes.
The group believes widening the road to five lanes would make it a freeway that would allow drivers to bypass Austintown.
State Route 46 also has been cited as a location for possible commercial development in the township during meetings for 20/20-Austintown, an effort to create a plan for the township's future.
Owens said he asked ODOT officials what the road would look like after they complete construction. They compared it to a section of South Avenue in Boardman, he said.
Owens took a picture of that section of road and posted it on the growth foundation's Web site at www.austintowngrowth.com.
ODOT spokeswoman Jennifer Richmond said the department is working to determine if the group's ideas for the road are feasible. The department also is looking at how much the changes would cost, she said.
Richmond said she wasn't sure when ODOT would have answers for the group.
Owens stressed that the group is hoping ODOT will have its evaluation as soon as possible, so that there will still be time to revise the department's plans for the road.
Construction on ODOT's project is slated to start in the spring of 2005.
"The more the clock ticks, the closer we get to digging up the ground," Owens said. "Our interest as a community is to get on this soon, when the final designs aren't final."
ODOT's $6 million project also calls for the department to widen Route 46 to four lanes between Norquest Boulevard and Silica Road and to five lanes at the Silica Road intersection. ODOT also would create turning lanes on Norquest Boulevard and New Road at the Route 46 intersections.
State officials have said they believe the project would help improve safety and reduce traffic jams.
Owens is one of a group of residents and officials who have expressed concerns about ODOT's plans to widen the road. Others in the group are township administrator Michael Dockry, clerk Michael Kurish, trustee David Ditzler and local developer Jonathan Levy.
Ditzler described the ODOT representatives who attended the two-hour meeting earlier this month as "cordial, informative, hopeful, but bureaucratic."
"We wanted them to be there in a cooperative situation, to see how we can get this done together," he said. "Instead, they acted more as a governing body that wanted to say, 'you can't do this'."
Owens added "I think ODOT was pretty clear in the solution they had in mind."
Richmond said the ODOT officials who attended the meeting believed the local group wasn't familiar with all the details of the plan to widen the road to five lanes.
"The evidence is not clear to us that that's the way of building this highway that will make for a safe community, as well as safe traffic," Owens said. He said the local group's proposals were discussed at the end of the meeting.