After the public advocacy for and against the East State Street Project at last week’s meeting, City Council took the time to explain the history of the project and why it should not be tabled.
In October of 2014, Council updated its East State Street quarter study, keeping in mind construction for 2016-17. At that time, it also discussed how to add sidewalks on the south side of the street.
Following its update, the city was awarded $2 million in Small Cities Funds and also received funds from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The state level of ODOT, however, said it would not fund the diverging diamond concept, which Council proposed initially for East State Street.
Ultimately, ODOT approved a modified design that incorporated some aspects of the diamond concept. Council Member Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said the format would reduce congestion from the interstate.
Following its conversation with ODOT, Council created potential designs for the street and weighted the appropriated money. In January 2016, ODOT announced it would be rehabilitating the Route 33 interchange and East State Street area. This plan included repaving East State Street and making adjustments for safety measures.
The ODOT project led to a discussion of whether to make East State Street a complete street, which requires accessibility for multi-modal transportation. Moving forward into the engineering phase, Council formulated legislation and, in January 2017, held working groups, meetings with the local administration and meetings with the engineering firm. At those meetings, a final design was mulled over. Soon after, the design and its legislation were brought to Council Feb. 13. The legislation’s first reading was Feb. 20. The project was recently brought up at the March 13 meeting.
“There is a level of prejudice, or exclusion, that comes in if you’re not providing levels of transportation for all citizens,” Mayor Steve Patterson said.
Concerned residents on both sides of the project were heavily present at last week’s meeting. Papai said she met with residents of the far east side neighborhood. She said the majority of individuals who were against the project were concerned with the design’s safety measures.
“They are on the same page with Council, with the administration, wanting to reduce speed, wanting to have a healthier community, and wanting to have a safe environment,” Papai said. “Safety is huge for them.”
Furthermore, Patterson argued the bike path as it is now has its own safety issues. He talked about an individual who bikes on East State Street at 5 a.m. because the bike path only has lights where it intersects with Ohio University. At the meeting last week, a resident mentioned the bike path tends to flood during periods of heavy rain.
“(If this project is tabled) we are going to miss the environmental protection date under Ellis, which is ODOT’s scheduling system,” the mayor said. “And that will lead to a whole series of things that will get backed up in terms of this process moving forward.”
The projected cost of the renovation is $6.1 million, but with funding from ODOT and the Small Cities Funds, the city is expected to pay $582,000. It will be 2018 before everything is completed. At the time of publication, only the ODOT plan of repaving and repainting East State Street was final. The ordinance proposed by City Council, which authorized the engineering services for East State Street and Interstate 33, was on its third reading and approved unanimously.
In contrast to last week’s meeting, no one in the audience spoke after the floor was opened for discussion.
Council also authorized a donation from Athens law enforcement, who raised money to assist OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in purchasing forensic equipment.
Additionally, Council declared its solidarity with other Ohio cities that are denouncing Senate Bill 331 as unconstitutional and in violation of Ohio law. It will further its solidarity with a lawsuit. The bill allows wireless service providers to attach micro-wireless equipment to city infrastructure without consent or regulation from the local governance. The Columbus Dispatch reported that 20 northeast Ohio “cities and villages” are seeking a “temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction” to halt the law, which went into effect Monday.
The Sustainability Action Plan discussed at last week’s meeting was also established as City Council wrapped up its meeting.