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Published: Sunday, 9/4/2005

ODOT signal removal worries some villages

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Luckey police Chief Eric Shiffler watches traffic as students cross at Luckey Elementary School. A stoplight in front of the school was damaged and, under ODOT rules, won t be replaced. Luckey police Chief Eric Shiffler watches traffic as students cross at Luckey Elementary School. A stoplight in front of the school was damaged and, under ODOT rules, won t be replaced.
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LUCKEY, Ohio For more than 50 years, a traffic light above a crosswalk on State Rt. 582 helped children cross the village s main street in front of Luckey Elementary School.

But a tractor-trailer rig struck the low-hanging signal on April 5, damaging it beyond repair. Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation reviewed the levels of auto and pedestrian traffic at the site and decided the crossing didn t meet the legal requirements to have a replacement signal installed.

Just because it s always been there doesn t mean it s warranted, said Joe Rutherford, a spokesman for ODOT s District 2 office in Bowling Green. ODOT cannot allow an illegal traffic signal to be installed on routes within our jurisdiction.

Luckey Elementary Principal Joe Morgan said if that s the case, maybe the rules need to be changed.

It just increases our chances of an accident. That s the way I see it, he said of the missing signal. I wish ODOT was just a little more I don t know if compassionate is the word but it just seems the regulations are devoid of that.

And Luckey isn t alone in its consternation over the loss or possible loss of a stoplight. Other towns in northwest Ohio in recent years also have faced removal of traffic signals or are encountering pressure from the state to take them down.

To qualify for a traffic signal, an intersection must meet at least one of 11 criteria, known as warrants, outlined in the Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. With few exceptions, a traffic engineer must stick to those guidelines, which consider such factors as traffic volume, accident history, and intersection layout.

Since Luckey s old signal was downed by accident, the five-member police department in Luckey, a Wood County town of about 1,000 people, has stationed an officer to control traffic at the crossing during the school s morning arrival and afternoon departure times so youngsters can walk safely across the road.

Police Chief Eric Shiffler said that s working for now, but he d like the light put back up. Some days, the officer scheduled for crossing guard duty has to handle an emergency call and can t be at the school. Even when an officer is there, some motorists now feel free to disregard the school zone s 20-mph speed limit, he said.

I realize that putting a traffic light anywhere is kind of detrimental to everybody, but when you re talking about the safety of kids, a little inconvenience to a motorist is a pretty small price to pay, he said.

In northern Hardin County, officials in Dunkirk face a Sept. 23 deadline from ODOT to agree to the removal of a stoplight that has regulated traffic at the intersection of U.S. 68 and State Rt. 81 since at least 1951.

Kirk Slusher, planning administrator for ODOT s District 1 office in Lima, said a traffic study and review of accidents at the intersection show the light is doing more harm than good. The village could face legal action if it won t allow the signal to be taken down, he added.

In a five-year period starting in 2000, 17 collisions were recorded at the intersection, Mr. Slusher said. Of those crashes, nine occurred when a motorist went through a red light on U.S. 68, and two were caused by red-light runners on State Rt. 81.

Four crashes were rear-end collisions caused when drivers struck another vehicle that braked for a red light on U.S. 68, Mr. Slusher said.

We re saying that if the signal was not there, the accidents would not have happened, he said.

But Dunkirk Mayor Pam Ruhlen disputed ODOT s findings and said the village is ready to fight in court to keep the light because many trucks use the intersection, along with buses from the Hardin Northern and Kenton school districts.

This light needs to stay because of safety for our kids, our residents, and I just can t see us taking that light down, she said.

At a public hearing conducted by ODOT Thursday night in Dunkirk, dozens of residents spoke against the agency s plan to take out the light.

ODOT officials say state law requires them to review whether a traffic signal meets legal standards whenever that signal or the road it services is being upgraded or replaced.

Mr. Rutherford pointed to the intersection of State Rts. 199 and 105 in the Wood County hamlet of Scotch Ridge. In October, 2003, ODOT announced it would remove a 54-year-old stoplight from the intersection after determining that traffic volume no longer justified a signal there. Instead of the light, ODOT said the intersection would become a four-way stop.

The old stoplight, which ODOT still plans to take down, now blinks red in all directions.

At the time, the agency s decision drew mixed reaction from local residents. Some applauded the change, saying it would prevent motorists from speeding through the intersection. Others, like Webster Township Trustee Mark Bushman, warned that turning off the light would make the intersection more dangerous. But to his surprise, Mr. Bushman said last week, that hasn t happened.

I guess I m fairly pleased the way it has turned out, he said. I m not aware of any close calls or accidents there, so hopefully it ll stay that way.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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