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WINESBURG -- In a room packed with concerned residents, engineers said it is safety, not a desire to cater to a single business, motivating a Holmes County plan to redesign the intersection of U.S. Route 62 and County Road 160.
A public viewing of the land Monday evening was followed by a public hearing, at which Holmes County Engineer Chris Young acknowledged "change is always difficult."
Nevertheless, he said, it's a job his office is tasked with managing, in the midst of commercial and residential growth throughout the county.
"My office works very hard to try and minimize the effects of these road projects on our residents and communities. Frankly, it is never an easy job to balance the need for change with the desire for things to remain the same," who was joined at the head of the crowd by engineer Matthew Johnson of Palmer Engineering, which was hired by Young to design to project.
"The current intersection is simply inadequate to support the type and volume of traffic it currently experiences," said Young.
It has been an area of concern for a decade, added Johnson, citing a history of complaints -- parents concerned for the safety of pedestrian school children, truck loads dumped on the County Road 160 hill, and backed-up truck traffic.
There have been 14 documented accidents in the area -- two injury and 12 property damage -- since 2011.
The current traffic count on the county road is 1,700 vehicle per day -- 1,445 non-truck vehicles and 255 trucks. Most of the trucks use 53-foot trailers, the longest on the road, according to Johnson, who noted, "The geometry of the existing intersection is ill-suited for large trucks."
The grade of County Road 160 makes it difficult for trucks to enter U.S. 62 if they come to a complete stop, which has led to many trucks ignoring the stop sign and making a dangerous movement onto U.S. 62.
And, due to the sharp intersection radius, trucks turning right onto U.S. 62 have to swing into the on-coming lane, which creates another dangerous situation, Young said.
Additionally, the steep grade of County Road 160 has caused a number of trucks to lose loads on the county road, he said, explaining, "This improvement is not being pursued for the benefit of Case Farms." The company is located on County Road 160 near the intersection and sends a lot of truck traffic through the area."This improvement is being pursued to benefit the community and make a safer intersection for everyone that uses it," Young said.
The proposed plan will reduce the vertical grade of County Road 160, which will include a flattened landing at the intersection, giving truck traffic a place to stop before pulling onto U.S. 62.
And, it will improve the turn radii, preventing drivers of large truck from having to enter the opposite lane of traffic to make their turn, said Johnson, noting the improvement also should reduce the occurrence of stop sign violations.
The Yoder family
Randy and Susan Yoder have lived at 2096 County Road 160 for 25 years. Their home sits along a curve which will be modified as part of the larger plan. It means construction of a retaining wall in front of their home.
"We're very agitated about it and we have no say," said Susan Yoder, noting their family's "home place" has seen one of their son's return home from the Army, was the only home to a daughter who died at the tender age of 13 and continues to be home to another son, who soon is expected to have a double lung and liver transplant.
They said they're concerned about the impact the wall will have on their property, both aesthetically and financially.
"I feel like I'm going to lose big time," Randy Yoder said.
The Yoders also said they're concerned about access to their property, which Johnson said will continue to run along the adjacent Vintage Avenue, which would, with the plan, dead-end into County Road 160.
They said they feel "helpless" in a situation where the county can move in, right up to their porch.
"It's not a rental. Its not some house. It's a home," Susan Yoder said.
Engineers said they've worked with the family to limit the wall's proximity to their home, save a special front yard tree and employ timber guardrails to make the intersection more visually appealing.
The Yoders said they were not kept in the loop as much as they'd have liked and felt shut out and ignored once they started to become vocal about their opposition to the plan.
"It stinks," Johnson said of the Yoders' situation, adding, "We tried everything we could."
A concerned community
Many others at the meeting said they were concerned for the Yoders; some raised additional concerns.
Christi Wengerd, who owns property along U.S. 62 just west of the intersection with County Road 160, said she is concerned the trucks will continue to swing wide on their turns, crashing into parked vehicles. She said she also fears losing some street-side parking, which the village relies upon heavily.
She was told her inquiry about the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection would have to be directed to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Others suggested improvements to other roadways, diverting the Case Farms truck traffic away from the intersection, but Young and Johnson said no other solution worked.
Opponents also expressed concern the reduction in grade would increase the speed of trucks, putting the Yoder's home at greater risk, although the proposed guardrail is crash-approved.
"I empathize with those that may not support this project," said Young. "Change is difficult. There is no denying that our community is growing in terms of residents, businesses and tourism. ... This project is emblematic of that change."
Not all opposed
"We are one of the statistics," said Kevin Mast of Mast Trucking, which has had numerous damages and claims, including lost loads, associated with coming up the County Road 160 hill.
Meeting attendee David Yoder, also in support of the changes, said he's "pretty excited about what you're doing."
He reminded those in opposition to consider what Case Farms has done to help the community and those whose livelihoods are tied to the business' operation.
Paint Township Trustee Matt Schneider said he also supports the project.
He said navigation of the existing intersection is a challenge to drivers of commercial vehicles. "It's not easy. It's horrible," he said, noting elimination of a steep grade will actually help to improve a driver's ability to brake and make the curve near the Yoders' home safer.
"I think it's beautiful," he said of the intersection, designed to leave a minimal footprint on the community. In a community that continues to grow, absent zoning, he said, issues such as infrastructure are going to need attention.
Eli Wengerd, who recently came into possession of the house on the southwest corner of the intersection said he so much supports the project he will raze the house and donate the property to allow for expansion of the intersection with U.S. 62. He said he is not gaining financially from the project.
A majority of project would be funded through an Ohio Public Works Commission grant.
Thanks to Wengerd's donation, the project scored high in the competitive application process.
"Projects score higher if they have substantial financial support from local sources, and, in this case, the local support is the donation of the right of way, which is significant," Johnson said, noting that because funding from OPWC is project specific, it will go away if the project does not come to fruition.
Funding would not come from the county's general fund or the new road sales tax, according to Johnson.
A final decision
The Holmes County commissioners, who said they will consider the input from those at the meeting, indicated they are likely to take action on the proposal at next Monday's business meeting.
They also will consider the recommendation of Young, who, "tasked with improving the road system for the safety of our residents and visitors," is recommending approval.
"Ultimately, it is the decision of the community, via their elected representatives that make the decision, and my office will support that decision and continue to improve the quality and safety of our county roads."
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.