City of Kent prepares for Summit Street project

Construction on the Summit Street Improvement Project is expected to begin in spring 2016 and finish in 2018.

Richard Mulhall and Ian Klein

Major construction on the Summit Street Improvement Project will not begin until spring 2016.

The two-year, estimated $17.5 million Summit Street: Building a Better Way project was expected to begin this fall, but the majority of roadway construction won’t occur as early as expected.

Project contractor Kenmore Construction Company is expected to begin construction in early March, said Michael Bruder, executive director of utilities planning and design at Kent State.

“There was a schedule (for construction) that ideally would have started probably late summer, and actually through just the bidding environment and through the contracting process, the contractor was not in place to start at that time,” Bruder said.

Minor work will begin this fall, including utility line relocation, but it will not cause any major disruptions to traffic on Summit Street.

“This fall semester, we’ll have some work happening, but it will just have some minor single-lane road closures that you would expect in a normal city project,” Bruder said.

Bruder said he expects to receive a final construction schedule from Kenmore Construction in the next few weeks.

The project is expected to be finished in late 2017 as long as weather does not cause any delays, said Jim Bowling, superintendent of engineering for the city of Kent.

The background

The Summit Street project has been in the works for several years. The city first began discussion about improving Summit Street in 2002.

The Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study identified East Summit Street as the most congested stretch of road in Summit and Portage counties.

Talks of the proposal continued in 2006 when the Kent State Area Transportation Projects Citizen Advisory Committee developed a Purpose and Needs Statement.

According to the statement, the committee determined three project goals: “reducing congestion, improving safety and allowing transit systems to move more smoothly.”

The indefinite proposal became a reality between 2007 and 2009 when Kent applied for and received federal funding for the project.

The grants were successfully approved due to how prevalent congestion and safety issues in the area were, which initiated the process of design and acquisition.

The project will cost about $17.5 million, with the Ohio Department of Transportation paying for 80 percent of the cost, and the city of Kent and Kent State splitting the remaining 20 percent.

The project is a joint effort by the city of Kent and Kent State designed to “improve traffic and safety conditions by adding turn lanes, medians and sidewalks to the roadway” of East Summit Street, KentWired previously reported.

“The overall project is meant to relieve traffic congestion (and) improve vehicular and pedestrian safety to the corridor,” Bowling said.

Reducing congestion

The project will add two roundabouts on East Summit Street to alleviate congestion. One roundabout will be added at the entrance to Risman Plaza and the Kent Student Center parking lot, which will eliminate two traffic lights and one intersection at Risman Plaza. Another will be added at Ted Boyd Drive that will replace the existing intersection there.

Construction will be divided into two phases that will focus on the one-mile stretch of Summit Street between Loop Road and Lincoln Street.

“We will be splitting it up into two segments so that we’re not impacting the same area for two straight years,” Bowling said.

Phase one, which is expected to begin in March, entails completing the entire roadway work from Fraternity Circle to Loop Road.

Phase two, which is estimated to begin in 2017, will cover the construction from just east of Willow Street to Fraternity Circle. This phase will also include a realigned West Campus Center Drive to eliminate two traffic lights and combine into the roundabout at Risman Plaza and the Student Center parking lot.

“We are realigning Campus Center Drive so that it’s an arrival point into campus that lands at that new proposed roundabout, and there’ll be a lot of transformation happening in that center part of campus,” Bruder said.

During both phases, one-way eastbound traffic toward Dix Stadium will be maintained along Summit Street throughout the construction zone.

Detours and parking effects

Bruder said State Route 261 will serve as the the detour route during both phases of construction. From 261, drivers will turn right on South Water Street, then turn right onto East Summit Street. From there, drivers can turn left onto South Lincoln Street, which will mark the end of construction.

“There are detour routes so that for people who use Summit Street as a through road, that their destination is not along in that section,” Bruder said. “The detour route would actually be around part of campus through 261 and up 43 to try to divert traffic from the area.”

Parking spaces in the Campus Center lots will be lost during construction, although it is not yet known how many.

Improving safety

Along with reducing congested traffic, the Summit Street project also hopes to create a safer, more attractive roadway for both drivers and pedestrians.

“Typically, when you have high congestion, you have high accident rates,” Bowling said.

When Kent submitted applications to receive grants to fund the project in 2007 and 2008, the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation conducted a study that found four of the top six crash intersections in Kent at the time were on Summit Street.

From 2011 to 2014, the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation conducted a similar study on pedestrian crash rates, and 23 percent of all pedestrian accidents in Kent happened in the one-mile stretch of road on East Summit Street.

“That section of Summit Street is one of the most congested and accident-prone sections of road in all of Summit and Portage county, so that is what made us eligible for the funding,” Bruder said.

City of Kent and Kent State officials chose roundabout installation as the best solution to the issues of congestion and accidents on Summit Street.

“All but one of those accidents were in signalized intersections when pedestrians were in crosswalks,” Bowling said. “Studies have shown that roundabouts reduce crashes.”

According to a study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts are significantly safer than conventional intersections because they reduce 35 percent of crashes, 76 percent of injury crashes and 89 percent of fatalities.

Speeds are also slower in roundabout intersections because they are designed to intentionally slow the driver down.

“They have a designed speed that’s closer to 15 miles an hour to go around that circle,” Bowling said.

In addition to adding turn lanes and roundabouts, sidewalks and medians will also be added to ensure pedestrian and cyclist safety.

“We were looking at trying to dedicate areas to pedestrians and bikes because it’s not clearly identified now, and so by providing infrastructure for that, it would be safer,” Bruder said.

First Steps: Utility Relocation

Although phase one of the roadway construction won’t begin in full until spring, work began on the project this summer and will continue into the fall.

Bruder said the majority of the construction that was done in the summer was preparatory work.

“We won’t see any changes to the traffic patterns or really see the changes that are coming about until next spring,” Bruder said.

Bowling said the private utility companies for electric, phone, cable and gas have started relocating their facilities.

First Energy has put up new utility poles, and Dominion East Ohio Gas will adjust its gas line on Summit Street. Kenmore Construction will begin working on underground, publicly owned city utilities.

Bowling said this utility relocation process will continue through the fall semester.

Ian Klein is a city reporter. Contact him at [email protected]Richard Mulhall is a reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].