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Uptown pedestrian safety project revisited at Hillsboro City Council meeting

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Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro Law Director Randalyn Worley, Auditor Dawson Barreras, Mayor Justin Harsha, Public Works Superintendent Shawn Adkins and Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Hillsboro City Council heard the first reading of an Ohio Department of Transportation resolution for pedestrian crosswalks during their Thursday, March 14 meeting. The resolution was introduced as an emergency, but a motion to suspend the three-reading rule failed to meet the required three-fourths majority after city law director Randalyn Worley strongly encouraged individuals with an interest in an uptown business to abstain from voting.

According to the legislation, this is a “project agreement” from ODOT for the “pedestrian safety improvement project in the City of Hillsboro on [U.S.] Routes 50 and 62.” 

As previously reported, the city was awarded $336,000 through ODOT in May 2022 for the project, which includes “federal and local” funding, according to the Department of Transportation.

According to a press release from the Ohio Department of Transportation, “The crosswalks at the Main Street and High Street intersection will be replaced with new high-visibility crosswalks including new pavement markings, center median refuge islands and solar-powered pedestrian-activated beacons.

“The project will remove 15 parking spaces. East Main Street will lose four parking spots, South High Street will lose five parking spots and West Main Street will lose six parking spots.”    

During council’s August 2023 meeting, they heard backlash from property owners concerned about the projected loss of parking spots in the uptown district, as that meeting was held during ODOT’s public comment period for the project.

Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott told council that the resolution came from ODOT, as the wording in the legislation specifies it is “an emergency measure to expedite the highway project.

“This legislation will allow the city to enter into an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation for PID number 117314, the Hillsboro safety grant for U.S. 50 and 62 and installation of mid-range crosswalks in the downtown historic district for pedestrian safety,” Abbott said. “The project is 90-percent grant and 10-percent local match. The total project cost is approximately $336,000, making the city match $33,600. These monies were already accounted for in the budget, and no additional appropriations are needed. 

“We do unfortunately have to ask for suspension of the three-reading rule and passage by emergency to comply with ODOT timelines for the project. I'd like to add that we asked for legislation probably two years ago when this grant began, and they indicated that it was not needed, and we got it about a week ago.”

Council member Greg Maurer asked if the current plan still includes removing parking spots.

“There will be loss of parking spots regardless of the project,” Abbott said. “Our current parking situation is out of compliance with state law as far as setback requirements, so now that the city is aware that we are out of compliance, it will happen regardless if this project happens or not.”

As noted at the August 2023 meeting, Abbott cited Ohio Revised Code 4511.68, which, in part, prohibits parking “on a crosswalk; within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection; [and] within 30 feet of, and upon the approach to, any flashing beacon, stop sign, or traffic control device.”

Maurer then asked “why” the city is doing a project with pedestrian islands that “limits turn lanes and impedes the traffic coming into the turn lanes.”

“The project was designed by ODOT engineers,” Abbott said. “This is something they specialize in, so they are responsible for the design of the safety project.”

Maurer asked about the pedestrian islands, and uptown parking, being affected “when wide loads come into town.”

“The same way we have in the past,” public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said. “They have to schedule the wide loads that come through town. We have blocked off parking stalls in the past.”

“So you’re going to limit parking even more?” Maurer asked.

“No, wide loads are by permit,” Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels said. “The state, prior to issuing the permit, surveys the route.”

Adkins emphasized that the pedestrian islands are “a proven safety” measure for “very busy” routes.

“We have six major state routes coming into the center of town,” Adkins said. “This will stop [drivers] from turning into that lane before they're even supposed to. That's what they've been doing is they're crossing a double-yellow line to get into a turn lane before the turn lane ever starts. This will stop that.

“We’re losing 15 parking stalls for this project. If we don't do this project, we're going to lose 20, because this project is taking away one of our mid-range crosswalks on West Main to make up at least five parking stalls. If we keep it the way we are, we're going to lose 20 parking spots, because we have to get in compliance with the ORC. If somebody gets hit in one of these parking stalls, the city’s going to get sued, especially now that the public knows that we know that we're out of compliance with the ORC.”

Abbott added that the city sought funding for this project after hearing “several complaints” from individuals at uptown businesses and others visiting uptown regarding “actual hits in the crosswalk or near misses.

“Pedestrian safety in all of Hillsboro, particularly the downtown where people are walking frequently, has been made a priority by the administration, just due to the feedback that we receive from downtown businesses and citizens,” Abbott said. 

Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha said the city is “looking at every avenue to help out with the loss of those parking places in the downtown.” As discussed elsewhere in the meeting, the street and safety committee is debating a return to two-hour parking uptown as well.

“We continue to look at some properties to add more parking lots,” Harsha said. “But when you've got businesses reaching out to you concerned about the safety of their employees getting to work, and some of them are getting hit — that's our number-one goal is to get rid of the safety hazard, so unfortunately, it’s at the expense of a few parking places. But, as we found out through ODOT, we're going to lose those parking places anyway.”

Council member Jason Brown said he felt the islands “could be just as much of a problem as a solution.” He asked if the city could just have the proposed “flashing signs” installed instead or if it’s a “take it all or take nothing” situation.

“This will also protect that flashing sign,” Adkins said. “I tried those signs up in the middle of the turn lane. They just get destroyed. I mean, if they run up over the island, at least they're going to damage their car or vehicle.”

“I've just never seen an island on a two-lane road,” Brown said. “My fear is it's going to be as much of a danger as a safety issue. If you're standing there, you’ve got two semis coming in or something, it's already pretty tight up through town.”

“The semis ought to be stopping,” Adkins said. ‘You shouldn't be standing on the island. It’s just a little bit of a safety barrier. You shouldn’t have to stop in the crosswalk. At any other crosswalk, you should be able to walk straight through it, right? 

“That flashing light is going to let everybody know, ‘hey, there’s somebody in that crosswalk, let’s stop.’”

Brown asked if the city can later remove the islands if they are “constantly getting tore up” and become “a nuisance.”

“You can always tear them down,” Adkins said. “But I don’t foresee that happening. This is a proven countermeasure. This isn’t the first one they’ve done.”

After that discussion, council president Tom Eichinger called for a motion to suspend the three-reading rule, which was made by Brown and followed by Worley’s message of caution to council.

“I just want to ensure that anybody who might have or who has a conflict may need to abstain from voting if they are going to personally benefit, or if their business might personally benefit, or even the opposite,” the law director said.

Maurer said he didn’t “understand what” Worley meant.

“If you feel as though you have an ethical issue, that you may have an interest in a business that may benefit from voting for this legislation, then you should abstain from voting for or against it,” Worley said. “If you have a personal interest in the outcome of this legislation, you should abstain.”

Maurer asked if council could “recess to discuss this more,” and Eichinger told him, “We can discuss it right here.”

“Are you calling me out?” Maurer asked Worley.

“No,” Worley said. “I’m not calling anyone out. 

“I can't tell you what to do. That's up to your discretion. But if you feel as though your interest in a business is providing guidance one way or the other, that could be an issue.”

After a pause, Eichinger told Maurer, “You look troubled.” Maurer said he felt Worley’s warning could apply to “any vote that we ever do.”

“I'm not calling you out. I don't want you to think I am,” Worley said. “I just I know there are various members of council who have family members, or own an interest, in a business, and that the parking for that business or in front of that business, those customers might be affected by this. I just want you to take that into consideration. I can't make the decision for you, but it is my job to put that on your radar to think about.”

Eichinger asked clerk Whitney Aliff to take the roll call vote to suspend the three-reading rule, with council member Jo Sanborn as well as Maurer (after another long pause) abstaining and the other five council members voting yes.

“So we cannot suspend the three-reading rule,” Eichinger said. “This will have to move to a second reading.”

After city administrators conferred among themselves, Abbott asked for “clarification” on how they could get the legislation approved.

“We can pass it,” Eichinger said. “It's just that we can never pass it in the time frame required by the state. We are hogtied by the state, 99 times out of 100.”

Worley added, “That sounds like we need to have a discussion with ODOT.” 

“So at this point, this was its first reading, it will go for a second reading and that’s what it is,” Abbott said.

“That's what it is, and we may have to go back to ODOT and let them know that their timelines are screwing us up,” Eichinger said. “Excuse me for saying it that way, but that’s kind of what it boils down to.” 

For more from Thursday's meeting, see the story at:….

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