High amounts of traffic lead to strategic shopping plans.
By ALISON KEMP
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Simply listing the stores she needs to hit on U.S. Route 224 is not enough for Jean Mitchell.
She makes a battle plan each time — a battle plan anchored by one key rule:
“Never try to turn left,” Mitchell said.
Coming from her home in Cornersburg, she starts on the south side of 224, heading east, and on her return trip, she stops at the stores on the north side of the road.
She is not alone. Ask Pat Hively and Peggy Yuhas. They make plans, too.
“Planning is the key,” said Yuhas, from Boardman.
Their descriptions of driving on Route 224 range from exasperating and near impossible to unbelievable and scary.
Such is life on what is officially the busiest stretch of road in the Mahoning Valley.
Driving on Austintown’s Mahoning Avenue isn’t all fun and games.
Market Street has its challenges, too.
And Niles has U.S. Route 422 — a beast in its own right.
The nightmare of 224
But none of them measure up to Route 224 between Interstate 680 and Market Street. It is the Barry Bonds of local roads, carrying more than 34,720 cars a day. That’s a measure from Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, which tallies the traffic in the region. Its latest measure puts this patch of Route 224 tops in the area, a place it has held for the last umpteen years.
The high traffic affects more than drivers. It’s a focal point for police, retailers and government road workers — who flock to these areas for accidents, shoppers and construction.
“We’ve just kind of outgrown the area,” Yuhas said of 224, who thinks access roads would be a good addition.
A study of the six-mile stretch of the 224 corridor began in 2004 and will make recommendations for alleviating traffic woes. The $1 million study by URS Consultants of Akron is being funded by Ohio Department of Transportation and Eastgate.
Stats fuel enhancements
Eastgate receives requests from businesses, communities and developers for the traffic counts, said Ed Davis, transportation systems project manager at Eastgate.
The businesses want to determine if there is enough traffic in the area to warrant a store, and governments use the data to apply for road funding and for safety, said Kathleen Rodi, director of transportation at Eastgate.
Rodi said high volumes of traffic take a toll on roads, so more traffic means more frequent improvements.
High volumes of traffic prompt the state to widen roads, such as state Route 46 in Austintown, which has recently increased from two lanes to five.
Another effect is occurring on Route 224 at Market Street. A right-turn lane will be added to eastbound Route 224 for cars turning south onto Market Street, Rodi said.
For these improvements to be made, statistics about the traffic and accidents and how they relate to each other are necessary. If Eastgate can tie the crashes to intersections and roads with lots of traffic, funding can be made to upgrade the lanes and signals.
“We have to document instances like this,” Rodi said. “We have to have something defendable.”
Higher traffic also means a higher frequency for crashes, Rodi said. By analyzing the types of crashes and traffic counts, Rodi said Eastgate can determine changes that can be made to reduce accidents.
“We are trying to remedy some of the issues out there,” she said.
The issues rattle off Rodi like a Driving 101 book:
There may not be a turn lane and building one would reduce crashes.
Would a turn arrow on a traffic light help?
Narrow lanes also pose problems for drivers, causing crashes. All new roads or any that are being repaved should have lanes that are 12 feet wide.
Rear-end crashes could be because the surface is too slippery, which can be changed.
Add these issues on busy roads to inattentive drivers, and you have even more woes.
“There are so many things there, people are not looking at the road [when driving],” Rodi said.
Inattentive driving accidents are what Austintown Township police officers respond to on the busier roads, said Lt. Bryan Kloss. He said most accidents on a street like Mahoning Avenue are from failure to yield or from driving too close to other cars — not from speeding, which tends to occur on less-trafficked roads.
Heavy traffic continues north on Route 46 into Howland Township, which has plenty of low-speed crashes, said Howland Police Chief Paul Monroe. He said these accidents occur most often when a car speeds up to change lanes and then immediately slows down, causing a chain reaction crash.
These “regular and frequent crashes” have put this section of road on the list for most crashes in Trumbull County, Monroe said. He said the road is typically pretty high on the statewide list, too.
Howland police frequently bring in state troopers to patrol Route 46 between East Market Street and Route 422, said Monroe.
“We work 46 pretty heavy. We’ve reduced the number of crashes, but it’s still unacceptable,” Monroe said.
Traffic is good for some
Businesses typically come to an area after the people do, Davis said, and the traffic counts show that people are there.
“They see there’s potential customers,” he said.
The number of businesses is high because of the high customer base.
When Wendy’s is looking for store locations, company officials look where people work, live and play, said Denny Lynch, senior vice president of communication.
To tell where all the people are, Lynch said traffic counts are a big part of the information they gather.
Lynch said the company wants its businesses on the right side — “right” as in not only the correct side, but also not on the left side — of the road.
Since Wendy’s is a lunch and dinner restaurant, it needs to be located on the side of the road that people drive on when heading home, Lynch said. This way, drivers do not have to make a left turn when exiting the parking lot if there is not a light.
Not making the left turn is integral to drivers.
“You have to have the light [to make a left turn]. It’s a tough situation all the way,” Yuhas said.
What the traffic is like
But count Mitchell as one customer who likes to avoid 224 as much as possible.
“I don’t come to Boardman unless I have to,” said Mitchell.
She said all the stores are too close to one another, which makes driving confusing and frightening.
“There’s too much going on,” she said. “Everyone conglomerates right there.”
Too many businesses is part of the problem, said Tracy Hoffman, of Boardman.
“The buildup of the businesses is what’s brought the problem,” she said. She travels on Route 224 for many reasons and has gotten used to the traffic.
“Everything I need is within a mile of my home ... but yet, it’s a pain in the butt,” Hoffman said.
So make a plan, say some drivers.
Hively, from Berlin Center, and Yuhas make a plan — like Mitchell — to avoid turning left onto Route 224 unless they are stopped at a light.
The amount of traffic that keeps Hively from making a left turn also keeps her eyes on the road.
She said there is too much traffic to take her eyes off the road to look at any of the businesses as she drives by.
Yuhas, a lifelong resident of Boardman, said the changes on Route 224 have been amazing, watching the street grow from two lanes to five. But it needs more changes.
“[Route 224] needs something to make it safer,” Hively said.
Mitchell, Hively and Yuhas suggested access roads to the stores and businesses, which would take traffic off Route 224.
So drive with caution along South Avenue, Belmont Avenue or state Route 46.
Just beware if you’re on Route 224 heading to Friday’s, Kohl’s, the mall, Cold Stone, Target and on and on and on ....
Be prepared. Be ready for battle.
And for goodness sakes, be able to avoid left turns.