City proposes new construction on Summit Street

Bethany English

Summit Street will be getting a full-blown makeover from Lincoln Street to Loop Road, complete with tree-lined medians, new turn lanes, dedicated bike lanes and updated traffic signals.

At least those elements are what were included in the reconstruction proposals Jim Bowling, Kent city engineer, shared with the public Tuesday night. He will present those same plans Thursday night at Kent City Council Chambers for the public’s review.

Both plans included significant changes to the main artery of city and university traffic with construction scheduled to begin in 2014. The improvements include revamping intersections and lowering the hill to increase sight distance near Terrace Drive.

“Summit Street is one of the most congested and unsafe streets in Kent,” Bowling said.

According to the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study Traffic Crash Report from 2002-2004, four of the intersections being revamped in these plans are listed in the top 10 crash zones for the city.

Bowling discussed how the city would plan to accommodate pedestrian traffic more effectively by placing additional mid-block crosswalks in areas with heavy foot traffic. The hope is that these new options will deter people from crossing at random points along East Summit Street.

The crosswalks will be what Jeff Noble, of the consultant engineering firm URS Corporation, called “staged cross walks.” This means pedestrians would only have to cross one lane of traffic at a time because the median will act as a stop-point.

Medians will also function to provide “access management” by eliminating some left-turn options that currently exist on Summit Street. It will prevent traffic from backing up as drivers wait to make a left turn as well as eliminate the likelihood of cars being T-boned.

The biggest difference between the two proposals is the design for new intersections. One plan includes standard intersections at the relocated intersection of Risman Plaza and Campus Center Drive and at Summit Street and Ted Boyd Road, in front of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. The other plan calls for roundabouts at those locations.

Noble, who helped design the roundabout at Northeast Six Corners, located on state Route 261, said the roundabout option will greatly reduce congestion because it allows traffic to move continuously. At the same time, roundabouts reduce the speed of vehicles traveling through them.

A new requirement being drafted in the Department of Justice, however, will require the city to provide crosswalks within these roundabouts that can be used by blind pedestrians. That is one of the many details Bowling, Noble and Jon Giaquinto, Kent city senior engineer, are still contemplating.

The scope of this construction will total in excess of $13 million and take a minimum of two years for completion.

The Ohio Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Program and Federal Congestion Relief Funds will contribute a little more than $10 million to the project while the city and university will each contribute $1.275 million.

That leaves about $950,000 that still hasn’t been provided for the project.

“There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a disruption,” Noble said of the construction.

The anticipation, Noble said, is that one section of the project will be constructed at a time, leaving the other side operational.

He also mentioned that a great deal of the work is completed during the summer when traffic and the student population around the university decreases.

Some driveways and lawns will need to be redesigned to facilitate the changes, and at this point, Bowling said only one house will need to be torn down in order to complete the redesign.

Substantial changes to this thoroughfare will also require some faculty, staff and students to change their commutes to the university.

Jim Francl is just such a person. Driving down Summit Street is necessary for the research specialist at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute to get to his job.

“I drive this thing four times a day…” Francl said.

He said he’s seen the need for some changes over his past 20 years at Kent State, but he said he’s concerned about how the traffic restrictions, especially eliminating the option for left turns into some of the parking lots.

Instead of turning in near where they would normally park, drivers will have to navigate through the lots to get to their preferred spots.

Contact Bethany English at [email protected].