Summit Street remodel will help improve congestion, safety

Aerial+image+of+Campus+Center+Drive+and+Summit+Street+taken+April+28%2C+2014.+Illustration+by+Ada+Marcantonio.

Aerial image of Campus Center Drive and Summit Street taken April 28, 2014. Illustration by Ada Marcantonio.

Katherine Schaeffer

It’s Monday at 5 p.m. Vehicles cautiously pause at intersections along the mile-long section of East Summit Street bordering Kent State. Cars play follow the leader with PARTA buses’ routine stops and pedestrians gingerly tread across faded crosswalks. Occasionally, an impatient student darts across the roadway, casting a nervous glance up Summit hill.

Students and experts agree this stretch of Summit is known for heavy traffic. A section of the street between Campus Center and Loop Road was found to be the most congested road in Portage and Summit counties, according to the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study.

But Kent plans to change this. The East Summit Improvement Project, currently in its final planning phases, aims to completely remodel the existing road to improve safety. Project features include converting two existing intersections into roundabouts, reducing the grade of Summit’s hill and improving crosswalks and traffic lights, among other improvements.

Construction of the two-year project, slated to begin in summer 2015, will span the road between Lincoln Street ‘s and Loop Road’s  intersections with Summit Street.

“Not often when we get to build a road or replace a road do we do something so transformative as we’re doing out at Summit,” city engineer Jim Bowling said.

Mike Bruder, executive director of Facilities Planning and Design at Kent State, said Kent State has been working closely with Kent to develop a safer, more efficient design for the road. He and two other

 representatives from the Office of the University Architect participated in a series of Citizens Advisory Committee meetings between March 2010 and October 2011.

“There was a series of public meetings that the university, community members, students were invited to,” Bruder said, “We met monthly for probably a year, a year and a half.”

The project, which will cost $16.4 million to complete, will receive 80 percent of its funding from the state. The remaining 20 percent will be split evenly between Kent and Kent State.

“We’re paying 10 percent, and they’re paying 10 percent [of the project],” Bruder said, “This percentage allows us to participate more closely in the planning process.”

When project planning began in 2006, the AMAT Study’s 2003-2005 data showed that four of Kent’s top six crash zones were located on Summit Street; Summit and Lincoln Street ranked second, Summit and Morris Road ranked third, Summit and Risman Drive/Campus Center Drive fourth and Summit and Loop Road sixth.

Since then, that has changed. Despite the road’s congestion, AMATS’s 2012 data showed that only two of Summit’s intersections are still in the top 10: Summit and Lincoln are No. 4 and Summit and Campus Center are No. 7.

Reducing congestion

The plan calls for two new non-intersection crosswalks across Summit, one at the parking lot in front of the M.A.C. Center and one in front of Fraternity Circle. Existing crosswalks will be redesigned, with a visible change in pavement color indicating where crosswalks begin. Crosswalks within roundabouts will be wider than usual and striped with reflective paint.

Summit’s existing intersections with Ted Boyd Drive and Campus Center Drive will be replaced with roundabouts. Construction will also widen the road to include a median, as well as bike lanes on each side. Turn lanes, added to existing intersections, will be accompanied by new lights with pedestrian push buttons and improved crosswalks.  

At the intersection of Summit and Terrace, the hill grade will be reduced by 2 feet to improve visibility.

“The problem is coming out of Terrace and you’re trying to look to your right to see cars coming up the hill,” Bowling said, “You can’t see the cars because they’re coming up the hill.”

Proposed plans would also re-route Campus Center Drive to create a new four-way intersection with Summit and Risman drives. Campus Center, which currently abuts the commuter lot next to the Schwartz Center, will cut through the parking lot.

Director of Parking Services Larry Emling said construction will limit parking accessibility for students and faculty, although it is too early to know exactly how. The Campus Center West reroute may also present additional challenges for Parking Services, as the road will cut through the Campus Center commuter lot, resulting in a loss of parking spaces.  

“At that point, we’re going to be losing spaces in that commuter lot,” Emilng said,  “We’ll probably lose a couple hundred spaces. And that could unfortunately, realistically, be a permanent loss.”

Several upgrades are planned for the Summit and Lincoln crossing, including an intersection realignment, which will straighten the existing intersection, forming four 90 degree angles. Plans include the addition of left and right turn lanes, new traffic signals, and crosswalks on all four sides of the intersection.

In order to complete the realignment of Summit and Lincoln, the city plans to purchase and demolish the student rental property on the southwest corner of the intersection.

Summit’s intersections with Morris and Loop will both feature new turn lanes, new traffic signals with push buttons and visible crosswalks.

Senior city engineer Jon Giaquinto said the city chose roundabouts in an effort to improve intersection safety.  The roundabout design also allows for a continuous flow of traffic, unlike a standard intersection, which stops at least one leg of traffic at all times.

According to a 2004 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group, roundabouts reduce crash rates by 35 percent. Reduced vehicle speeds increase pedestrian safety as well. A Dutch study found that converting traditional intersections to roundabouts lead to 73 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes.

“Just from looking at studies that have been done about roundabouts, they provide a safer mode of transportation for the vehicle,” Giaquinto said, “One of the biggest reasons why we decided to go with the roundabouts was probably the safety.”

The two-year project will be divided into two phases in order to minimize traffic disruption. Bowling said the bulk of the construction will take place between March and November, when the weather is warm enough to pour concrete. The first phase focuses on the eastern section of the road, and the second focuses on the western section.

Because Summit Street is a primary emergency response route, one lane of eastbound traffic will remain open during both phases of construction.

A Lengthy Process

The city began discussion about improving Summit Street in 2006 when the Kent State Area Transportation Projects Citizen Advisory Committee developed a Purpose and Needs Statement for the corridor. According to the statement, the committee determined three project goals: “reducing congestion, improving safety and allowing transit systems to move more smoothly.”

The committee, which included representatives from Kent State, the city’s safety forces and PARTA, among others, guided the city engineers, called attention to problems and suggesting solutions.

The city first applied for and received federal funding for the project in 2009. Currently, the city is putting the finishing touches on its environmental document, a comprehensive report required by the state. The document encompasses the project’s potential positive and negative effects on the community.

“The purpose of the document is to show in one location, all the needs for this project and what good we’re trying to do,” Bowling said. “And here’s all the impacts, the negative impacts, that could happen because of solving all those needs. And basically shows that the needs and the fixes outweigh the potential impacts.”

The document analyzes the project’s long and short-term effects, including hazardous materials, ecological conflicts and impacts on historical architecture as well as any properties that need to be purchased.

Once the environmental document is complete, the city will prepare plans for a bid and begin advertising for a contractor, which it will choose in June 2015. Giaquinto said it isn’t unusual for a large-scale construction project like this one to take several years to secure federal funding.

“It takes a while to get through all the different steps that the state wants you to go through,” Giaquinto said. “We would hope we could have gotten it done quicker, but that’s just the way it goes.”

Contact Katherine Schaeffer at [email protected].