The delay came on a 7-0 vote of the Cleveland City Council after business and property owners complained the two-year construction project would jeopardize businesses in the construction zone.
The elected officials opted to spend $2,000 on a traffic study instead of floating a bond for about $1.2 million to buy rights of way. It would cost Cleveland Utilities $1.6 million to relocate power lines and poles.
Mayor Tom Rowland said, “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?”
City Manager Janice Casteel said money is being budgeted within the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO’s priority would have to change from Mouse Creek Road. The tab for widening and straightening the northern corridor between Cleveland and Lauderdale Memorial Highway has climbed to $50 million.
“That’s taking homes,” she said. “You can’t spend all of your money on Mouse Creek Road and make enough improvements there. This one is being constructed because of the volume of traffic that already exists.”
Casteel said TDOT asked for a commitment to fund the project by mid-July to prevent delaying the project.
“We’re at that crossroad,” she said. “At the last meeting I asked you to delay it until today to give all the property owners that opportunity to call TDOT and find out exactly how it would affect their property.”
The item appeared on the previous Council agenda but the vote was delayed to give property owners more time to get information from TDOT. The project to widen and add lanes to ease congestion at the busy intersection is in the design stages.
The 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 planned to move into the right of way acquisition phase in January 2013. Final construction plans are scheduled for release in March 2013, with construction beginning in the summer 2013 and take about two years to complete.
TDOT Project Manager Wes Hughen said the agency is trying to keep a schedule, but he could make the recommendation to Nashville and see where it falls.
“We were given a task and we’ve fulfilled our task,” he said. “We’re concerned about the two years of construction. We don’t take it lightly and we understand the effect on business owners. We don’t dare take it lightly.”
Cleveland Utilities Traffic Signal Coordinator Tad Bacon said a traffic study of the 25th Street corridor has not been done because he did not have the money. He said it would cost about $2,000 to study the traffic flow through the intersection. He asked to delay the traffic survey until after school begins in the fall to determine if adjustments can be made in signal timing.
Bacon said there is too much volume for the capacity of the intersection. Signal timing can be improved, but it will not relieve traffic congestion. Increasing the flow capacity could shorten the green time because vehicles are closer to the intersection.
“Signal timing alone cannot fix that. It’s at capacity and the only way to add capacity is to build lanes,” he said. “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.”
Bacon said timing could be adjusted to meet demands at various times of the day. Paul Huff Parkway, for example, runs up to five patterns based on the time of day. There are two patterns on 25th Street during the week.
“We want to increase that and one of the things we want to do is traffic counts at all those intersections,” he said.
The gathered data is used as modeling for building multiple traffic patterns.
“It still doesn’t change the fact that we have a maximum volume to capacity ratio,” he said. “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, 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.”
At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said he was aware the inconvenience of a few motorists might be outweighed by the inconvenience of these property owners through two years of construction.
“All of that has to be weighed in,” Banks said. “We’re getting ready to spend $1.2 million of taxpayers’ money when ... there are some [other] dangerous intersections in Cleveland and when you put six lanes into two, it’s just not good common sense to me.”
District 2 Councilman Bill Estes said he was not aware of any intersections on Paul Huff Parkway at capacity. He said comparing it to 25th Street is an apples and oranges comparison.
“We’re taking a gamble whatever we do,” he said. “You are also taking a gamble. In the future, it could be much more invasive to your property. It’s certainly going to cost more money.”
District 4 Councilman David May said they needed to consider what North Ocoee Street would look like in 15 years.
“Do we want to have six lanes to move traffic north and south? Do we want to keep it basically the way it is now? I think of Five Points,” he said. “It was two lanes and we had all the businesses there. As soon as we widened the road, it did away with businesses. We had studies done that show the only way to get Five Points back is to slow down some of the traffic, because it’s running too fast.”
George McCoin is a joint owner of the property occupied by TitleBucks and Ocoee Village. His biggest concern was uncertainty of how the project would affect the property.
He said he intended to hire a surveyor to see how the work would impact his interests, but TDOT had not given him enough information because the plans are subject to change.
“What I’m trying to find out is what are the alternatives. At least give me the alternatives that are available so I can lay those out and see how it’s affecting the property,” he said.
He also asked if the intersection work was the best use of public money.
“Is there a less expensive alternative?” he asked.
Other people who spoke at the Council meeting included Marietha Silvers with the Surgery Center of Cleveland; Greg Rush, Rush Funeral Home; Ocoee Street residents Roger Jenne and Dr. John Stanbery.
Stanbery said some of his concern was simply a matter of his personal viewpoint of how government should function.
“Government is supposed to serve the public,” he said. “For people to just lackadaisically say it will just be two years — two years is enough to put a business out of business.”
He said it did not make sense for TDOT to build a road to handle the volume of traffic when it has no input into how the flow is managed.
TDOT Design Engineer Robert Rodgers explained the modifications are being made to handle the existing traffic flow. Signal timing was best managed locally.
“You get into bigger issues of planning and how does the city of Cleveland envision this road being in the future and that’s really something we ask the city of Cleveland to tell us,” Rodgers said.
Stanbery said he remembers when Keith Street was built to relieve Ocoee Street. One idea he suggested is widening Keith Street and installing traffic lights on Ocoee.
“The first thing they did was take traffic lights down on Ocoee Street and put traffic lights up on Keith Street, which pushed more traffic back onto Ocoee,” he said. He said it’s not much of a discussion when government holds the big stick of eminent domain. A private citizen will eventually agree to do what you want one way or another. You may try to help him a little bit, but ultimately, the state has the power to make him do what it wants. That’s not much of a negotiation.
“Government is supposed to serve us. It’s not supposed to beat us over the head and force us to do what it wants us to do.”