LOGAN — The Hocking County Courthouse bustled Tuesday afternoon during a public meeting between the Hocking County Board of Commissioners and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 10.
The commissioners’ chambers were filled with media representatives and Hocking County community leaders, including Logan Mayor Greg Fraunfelter, Good Hope Township Trustee Rodney Watkins, Hocking County Engineer Douglas Dillon, Hocking County CIC Executive Director Joy Davis, Hocking County EMA Director Robert “Bozz” Salizzoni, and others.
Three ODOT District 10 representatives made the roughly 70-mile drive from Marietta: Studies Engineer Eric Davis, Capital Programs Administrator Jamie Hendershot and Planning Engineer Alan Craig.
ODOT District 10 serves Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Vinton and Washington counties. According to its website, it maintains 4,000 lane miles of interstate, federal and state highways and 1,200 bridges throughout its nine counties.
The meeting was to discuss two specific U.S. 33 intersections in the county: State Route 374 and U.S. 33, and U.S. 33 and County Road 10 at the Rockbridge GoMart.
Despite repeated assurances by the commissioners that the meeting was not to be a “roundtable,” ODOT District 10 staffers encouraged those in the meeting room to ask questions and share concerns. Comments and questions on the Facebook livestream were also acknowledged.
“Our primary purpose for being here today is to in fact, hear from you, hear what your concerns are, what your requests are, what your needs are, so that we can begin to look at this corridor and understand some of the some of the crashes that have been occurring and some of the more recent crashes — it appears as if there’s an uptick in crashes,” Hendershot said.
According to Hocking County data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, there were 217 crashes investigated in the county between Jan. 1 and Aug. 2, 2020; this year, between those same dates, there have been 265. In 2019, the county saw two fatal crashes, four in 2020 and one this year.
During the meeting, EMA Director Salizzoni shared data collected from the Hocking County 911 Dispatch. From Jan. 1, 2020 to July 26, 2021, there were 52 incidents at State Route 374 alone. Out of those 52 incidents, 32 were motor vehicle accidents (MVA). From Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2019 there was only one MVA, he said.
“Just since COVID, it’s increased and we’ve seen 32 MVAs, that’s as of the 26th of July,” Salizzoni said, adding that there have been two additional incidents since then.
Incidents are anything vehicle-related, such as vehicle fires or erratic driving, he said. Davis said ODOT data relies on crashes, not near-misses or other vehicular accidents.
One public comment expressed concern about school buses; another was about pedestrian traffic, given that the new Rockbridge Dollar General is opening soon — by the end of August, its representative told The Logan Daily News during the meeting.
Another concern regarding the Rockbridge intersection was that of the Good Hope Township Volunteer Fire Department. Good Hope Township Trustee Watkins shared his experiences waiting for traffic to clear.
“(In a school bus) you have to, by state law, wait till both lanes (are) clear,” Watkins said, adding that once, he sat there for eight minutes, waiting to cross. “Us as (trustees), I was more worried about our emergency vehicles. We’ve sat there almost five minutes with the emergency vehicles with their lights and sirens on trying to get out, and people won’t stop.”
Salizzoni noted that Hocking Hills tourism, and its relationship with the pandemic, have been visible in regards to traffic accidents.
“The average (tourist) count that was given to me when I came into office here was 4.5 million visitors since the beginning of 2020... That’s not counting the residents in this county,” Salizzoni said. Later, he added that tourism is expected to increase, from 5 to 7 million visitors within the next couple of years.
Salizzoni also voiced the very grim reality of what may be the shared concern of Hocking County residents: “We can figure out what we can do because the last thing I want to see is my granddaughters or daughters or my wife, pull out from the flea market — because they love that flea market — and then be a statistic.”
But before anything can be done, data must be collected.
ODOT District 10 performed the last traffic count in the area in 2012–2013. The next one will begin within the next few weeks, as well as crash analysis, Davis said. Another traffic study will expand its range from the Fairfield County line to the state Route 180 interchange.
The more immediate concerns are the GoMart intersection and 374, but “long-term, we need to make sure we’re addressing the corridor and making it safe,” Davis said.
Board President and Commissioner Jeff Dickerson described earlier how he’s seen traffic patterns change in recent years.
“Thursday (through) Monday, traffic is at an all time high. It used to be Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And now it’s Thursday, it’s not Wednesday,” Dickerson said. “We have — more people than ever before are coming to the Hocking Hills, and it’s a nightmare.”
The study will also collect data from one day of the weekend, Davis said. Commissioner Sandra Ogle requested it be Sunday.
Ogle also voiced concern over a solution that might harm businesses. She described seeing nearby businesses go under due to limited highway access. Roger Shaw, of the Hocking Hills Market, said roughly 200 people are employed in the continuously developing Rockbridge area.
“It’s only going to grow,” Shaw said.
Proposed solutions by both the ODOT reps and Hocking County residents varied; some long-term projects, like overpasses, while others short-term, like flashing warning signs.
Any long-term change would have a significant amount of public input, Davis said.
County engineer Dillon said whatever the solutions may be, ODOT will choose the most cost-effective, safest solution.
“If we had a plan right now, today — just constructing it and getting underway — is three or four years (away) — we haven’t even finished the study yet. There’s going to be some time that is going to go by before resolution is achieved, and it’s going to be resolution that doesn’t make everyone happy, either,” Dillon said. “It’s going to be safety-driven. Be prepared — we’re years out until this has been addressed to our satisfaction, just be patient. Let the professionals do the work they will do.”
The meeting drew much prior public attention for which the commissioners prepared.
Facebook posts in Hocking County and Logan groups called for public attendance at the meeting; one post had over 150 shares. A projector, screen and seating were arranged in the courthouse atrium to accommodate additional members of the public.
Clerk of Commissioners Kaula Funk noted that she couldn’t recall a public meeting like this one before — one that required security planning, seat reservations and outside viewing.
Before the ODOT meeting, Ogle read the July report from the Hocking County Lodging Tax Office. In July, there were 1,265 known lodging units including six hotels/motels with an additional 289 rooms for a total 1,549 units; 14 units are currently unregistered.
The monthly spreadsheet shows 368 businesses of which 353 are paying their taxes; the remaining 15 businesses are delinquent. Three new businesses registered in July and one began paying taxes.
The next commissioners meeting will be Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Commissioners Chambers at the Hocking County Courthouse, 1 E. Main St. Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the commissioners’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HockingCommissioners/, where they can also be watched at a later date.
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