The state department of transportation will not grant a traffic light at the intersection of Old Swimming Pool Rd. and the Hwy. 129 Bypass but proposes another solution to remedy a long-standing safety issue.
The DOT has asked the Jefferson City Council to draft a resolution supporting the implementation of an “R-cut” (Restricted Crossing U-Turn) at the intersection. The council discussed the proposal at its March 8 meeting.
Mayor Jon Howell recently initiated a meeting with the DOT in an attempt to convince the department to install a traffic light at Old Swimming Pool Rd. but the intersection does not meet DOT criteria based on traffic counts from a study performed over a year ago.
The DOT, however, proposed the R-cut as a remedy. According to Howell, the DOT said 30 of the 46 traffic accidents on record for that area would have been avoided had an R-cut been in place.
The potential R-cut would prevent lefthand turns off Old Swimming Pool Rd. onto the four-lane bypass in an effort to reduce the number of cars stacking at the intersection and darting cross the bypass during high-traffic hours. With the R-cut, drivers needing to travel north on the bypass must turn right instead and then make a U-turn at a turnaround near Panther Dr.
“Obviously, it’s not my first choice,” Howell said. “My first choice would be give me the traffic light. But we did engage Senator Frank Ginn who is chair of the transportation committee in the senate. So, we had what I felt like was pretty maximum leverage to try to get done. There are just laws precluding DOT from doing it.”
Howell said he anticipates drivers being forced to take a right and then a subsequent U-turn will be somewhat unpopular.
“From a popularity standpoint, from a populous standpoint, we’re going to hear about it,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, people have entrusted us to represent them, and this makes that intersection safer.”
Concerns were expressed, however, that DOT’s proposal would just create new stacking issues with a higher volume of vehicles attempting to make U-turns. There were also worries about a limited sight line for drivers making those U-turns and the impact on traffic attempting to turn left off of Panther Dr. onto the bypass.
While councilman Mark Mobley said he shared the those concerns and agreed it was not an ideal solution, he supported the change.
“In my opinion, this is going to be safer than what we have now,” Mobley said. “Because the stacking happens every morning. I’ve seen as many as 15 cars, I’ve counted, personally, 15 cars stack there and try to turn left. And that’s the way people get antsy and they take chances. To me, when we do this, we’re going to reduce some of that antsiness …”
Councilman Malcolm Gramley said he shared the concerns about site distance for U-turns but said he was told by the DOT that the site distance was adequate.
“I’m not particularly ecstatic about this, but it’s a better option that getting somebody killed,” Gramley said.
But police chief Joe Wirthman contended that a traffic light at the problematic intersection is the only remedy, saying the R-cut just shifts the problem down to another point on the bypass.
He also pointed to new homes coming into that area and the potential for an even greater traffic count, more traffic accidents and higher potential for fatalities.
Howell noted that the installation of an R-cut would not preclude the DOT installing a traffic signal in the future.
“I wanted to make that crystal clear to the DOT that we will continue to study this intersection and the moment we’re eligible for a traffic signal, we’ll be making applications for one,” he said.
But for now, the city has few options, Howell said.
“We are dealing with state and federal partners,” Howell said. “Our hands are tied. We either have a solution that moves the dial toward safety or we just keep the status quo.”
The city will hold a virtual town hall Monday, March 15, at 6 p.m. to discuss the matter with the public. Mobley, whose district includes the Old Swimming Pool Rd. intersection, will host the event and make a public meeting link available. He’ll also ask for questions to post prior to the town hall meeting. Questions will also be taken afterward.
“We’ll continue this dialogue with the public,” Howell said. “It sounds like if this preamble is any indication, we’re going to have a lively discussion.”
FOOD TRUCKS DISCUSSED
The council again discussed ordinance amendments related to food trucks and public events. One of the main questions to emerge was addressing the frequently with which food trucks could be permitted on city property and the potential for overuse.
City planner Jerry Weitz mentioned a limit of four per year per individual, though concerns were expressed that that number was too low. Weitz later said he was uncertain if that figure was included in the ordinance amendments.
“The discussion is fair to say that you think if we were to do it only four times a year that’s way too restrictive,” Weitz said. “Yet we’re worried about what might happen if it’s totally unlimited, so we need to answer the question about frequency of applications for food trucks on public property and address that, hitting some mark that’s going to be acceptable to the city council.”
“I think there’s a solution,” Howell responded. “I don’t think limiting it to four times a year is it.”
One solution mentioned was allowing the city staff, through the food truck permit review process, to regulate the number of food trucks on a given date.
In the other business, the council:
•further discussed acquiring a portion of a road running behind McDonalds from the DOT. The road has became an area where tractor trailers park and drivers reportedly dispose of trash. McDonalds owns potions of the road as well. The council, which addressed the issue at length during a Feb. 25 meeting, seeks to clean up the trash and stop trucks from parking along side the road and in a cul-de-sac owned by the DOT. The council has formed an exit 137 beautification subcommittee to address this issue and others in that area. The subcommittee will meet Tuesday, March 16, at 6 p.m. at the city council meeting room at Jefferson Station. The meeting is open to the public, though the committee won’t take public input at that session. A subsequent meeting will be scheduled to gather public input. That meeting date has not been set. Mobley, who chairs the committee, said he’ll allow citizens an opportunity to make online comments as well.
•reviewed the health and dental insurance renewal plan for city employees.
•reviewed a variance requesting a setback reduction from 10 feet to five feet on Monte Lane to allow for an accessory building.
•reviewed a resolution to accept from Trammell Crow additional right-of-way along the northside of Hog Mountain Rd.
•reviewed two resolutions related to abandoning portions of Park St. and McKenzie Ave.
•reviewed a resolution to abandon land previously utilized for Horace Head Road’s old intersection with Hwy. 82 and a resolution to accept Horace Head Rd. as realigned and right of way at the road's new intersection with Hwy. 82.
•reviewed the reappointment of Downtown Development Authority members Christine Dalton, Shawn Watson and Les Crane.