The project will be coordinated by Cannon & Cannon Inc., a traffic engineering firm in Knoxville that is well-familiar with Cleveland’s traffic patterns and its complicated traffic signal network. Working under contract with CU, the group has already completed detailed reviews of several congested city roadways while also working to synchronize traffic signals along Huff Parkway and North Ocoee Street.
In July, City Council members asked CU to complete a new traffic study of the 25th and Ocoee junction as an aid in making a final determination on whether to help the Tennessee Department of Transportation fund a costly revamp of the intersection which will impact neighboring businesses and residences.
Such a project, estimated by TDOT engineers to cost the city $1.2 million for its share, would involve adding lanes to all four legs of the intersection. Under TDOT’s current design, the two-year project also would cost Cleveland Utilities $1.6 million to relocate power lines and poles.
At a recent session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities, Electric Division Vice President Bart Borden confirmed the study request has been given to the Knoxville group, as well as additional information from previous traffic studies of the intersection.
“Our traffic signal coordinator [Tad Bacon] provided copies of two prior traffic studies performed at the 25th Street and North Ocoee Street intersection,” Borden said. “A Hensley-Schmidt study from 1990 and the Clinard study from 2004 indicated that road improvements were needed to add turn movements with storage lanes due to observed and expected traffic volume growth.”
He added, “None of the recommended geometric changes has been made and actual traffic volumes have exceeded the expectations from the two studies.”
Borden told CU board members the City Council’s intent in seeking the new traffic study is to determine if signal timing changes could partially improve the intersection’s traffic flow. Borden said CU has accepted the city’s request and that information obtained through the Cannon & Cannon investigation will be utilized in future 25th Street timing plans.
The CU Electric Division has headed the city’s traffic light network since being handed the responsibility in January 2011 by the City Council.
Since that time, the utility’s efforts have been challenging due to increased traffic caused by municipal growth over the past few years. To remedy some of the congestion along Huff Parkway, traffic engineers devised five [traffic signal] patterns based on the time of day. Two patterns currently operate on 25th Street during the week.
At the prior Council session, Bacon told the governing body CU wants to increase the number of patterns on 25th Street, but traffic counts at all the roadway’s intersections will be needed. Traffic volume data is used as modeling for building multiple traffic patterns.
But the problem runs deeper than traffic signal cycles, Bacon reported then.
“It still doesn’t change the fact that we have a maximum volume to capacity ratio,” he warned. “We’ve looked at Ocoee and 25th many, many times since January 2011. We could do more if I had traffic counts for 24 hours a day and weekends. If I had that data, I could create some extra timing plans that would help.”
But Bacon gave Council members this reminder, “... Whether it be the a.m. peak [morning commute time] or the p.m. peak, that intersection is not big enough to handle the volume of traffic. There are going to be delays regardless of what we do with timing.”
Traffic signal timing can be improved, he added, but it will not completely relieve congestion issues.
“Signal timing alone cannot fix that [the intersection],” Bacon stressed. “It’s at capacity and the only way to add capacity is to build lanes. There are other intersections on 25th Street where we have that same issue. There is a point in time where we have to build roads. We have to improve roads to improve signal timing.”
At the gathering, Council members voted 7-0 to spend $2,000 for the 25th and Ocoee traffic study, thereby delaying the proposed TDOT intersection improvements by about 90 days. The Council’s reasoning, based on an assessment by Mayor Tom Rowland, is to determine if traffic cycle modifications can alleviate some of the congestion and motorist delays without jumping into a wholesale intersection shapeshift that will impact area businesses and residences.
The TDOT project remains in the design phase and state engineers have held a public hearing to disseminate information about the initiative and its potential impact on property owners.
Currently, the TDOT design shows each of the four legs will have seven lanes, counting a pair of through lanes in each direction, two left-turn lanes and a dedicated right-turn lane. Preliminary plans also show a retaining wall on the north side of the Walgreens pharmacy, curbs and guttering, sidewalks on each side and an update of the stormwater drainage system.
TDOT’s acquisition division had hoped to move into the right of way acquisition phase in January 2013. To date, final construction plans are scheduled for release in March 2013, with construction beginning in Summer 2013.
In the words of Rowland at the Council session on July 9, “Basically, three businesses would be destroyed during construction and after it is completed, but we have a problem with the intersection itself. My question would be, should we not invest $2,000 and adjust the signal timing, but not hold TDOT in abeyance forever and we lose the whole thing — but at least see if this would work?”
Although City Council members authorized the new traffic study about four weeks ago, its launch was delayed until now to allow the new school season to get under way. This will provide the most accurate traffic volume numbers possible, according to Bacon.