Drivers still adapting to Butler County superstreets

They are safer, more cost-effective ways to manage traffic, officials say.

After one year in operation, three Butler County thoroughfares on the cutting edge of transportation engineering in Ohio still have motorists divided: they either love them or they hate them.

The state-of-the art infrastructure is a cost-effective way to manage traffic in growing suburban areas, according to the county engineer’s office.

“You’re seeing innovative formats come forth, and what’s stemming out is safer, better and more cost-effective ways to manage traffic,” said Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens.

Many motorists agree that the Single Point Urban Interchange at Ohio 63 and Interstate 75 is a benefit to those traveling through Monroe because its design efficiently moves high volumes of traffic.

But many motorists detest what they call a confusing maze along Bypass Ohio 4 that stretches across Fairfield, Hamilton and Fairfield Twp.

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“I think it fits with everything else and what every other industry is doing. We’re all seeking new technology,” Wilkens said. “It’s just that the civil and traffic engineering, you have more public involvement and public opinion because you’re using taxpayer dollars.”

The superstreet project along Bypass Ohio 4 cost more than $30 million. The Ohio 63 interchange at Interstate 75 was part of a $98.8 million Ohio Department of Transportation I-75 reconstruction project.

“It’s easy access,” said Samantha Triplett, manager of the Shell station east of the expanded Ohio 63 interchange at Interstate 75. “It’s easy to get on and it really helps us out on the weekend.”

The design and look of the intersection is attractive and adds to the improved look of the intersection, said Peter Patal, owner of the Best Western Monroe Inn off Ohio 63 on New Garver Road.

The positive reaction the Ohio 63 interchange has received, however, stands in stark contrast with continued resistance to the no-left-turn superstreets along Bypass Ohio 4.

The bypass superstreets were designed to eliminate lengthy traffic backups along the bypass. However, a number of drivers say they now bypass the bypass, preferring not to deal with its uncommon U-turns.

In this configuration, traffic from the cross streets of Hamilton-Mason, Tylersville and Symmes roads cannot proceed straight across the bypass. Drivers wishing to turn left or go straight must turn right onto the bypass, then, a short distance away, make a U-turn.

Although residents have been driving the redesigned bypass for a little more than one year, some of them still haven’t warmed to it.

“I think it causes more trouble than it’s worth, the way you have to turn around,” said Connor McAdams of Trenton. “People don’t know to stay in their lanes.”

“I don’t understand it,” said Hamilton resident Patty Elwell. “Honestly, I’m not on it a whole lot, and every time I am, I think ‘What am I doing here?’ I never know if I’m in the right lane.”

Education and improved signage to avoid confusion is a must if communities are going to employ innovative infrastructure designs, said Deogratias Eustace, a civil engineer professor at the University of Dayton.

“A good intention can be a negative if you bring new intersections people aren’t used to,” Eustace said.

That confusion, he said, could result in businesses taking a hit.

“If a lot of people hate them and they want to avoid them, they won’t take those roads,” Eustace said. “If there is another competing business (in a different, easier direction), they’ll go that way.”

A year ago, a number of business owners along Tylersville Road had expressed concern that the redesigned bypass was driving customers away and hurting their bottom lines. However, at least one business, Daylight Donuts at 3485 Tylersville, has seen a rebound in recent months, after construction was complete.

“Since they got the intersection down at Bridgewater Falls completed and down at Route 4 completed, we’ve noticed a big increase in the amount of traffic,” said co-owner Elvis Nail. He estimates business increased as much as 30 percent a month after construction finished.

Nail said people will eventually get used to the traffic patterns.

“I still hear people complain about it, that it’s difficult to motor around. But I think once they get used to it, they’ll notice the traffic goes a lot faster,” he said.

Mark Wulfhorst, of Fairfield Twp., was among the minority of drivers who said they approve of the new design.

“It’s freed up traffic,” he said. “There are no long delays there at rush hour. That’s a plus. You get used to (the U-turns) after a little bit.”

Wilkens said every road infrastructure has its “pluses and minuses.” The pluses in the decisions designers and engineers made with the superstreets outweigh the minuses — and the alternatives, he said.

“To move the amount of traffic that’s coming through the bypass, there’s only one other way that you’re going to meet the future demands of the traffic in that area and that’s full interchanges,” he said.

Full interchanges would require bridges and ramps to be constructed, similar to those along interstates.

“And if you look at trying to put a full interchange in there, you would destroy the whole area,” Wilkens said.

Businesses at three corners of Symmes Road would have to be wiped out to accommodate such an alternative, and the level of funding that would be required would never have happened, he said.

“The bottom line is that the roadway is now safer and takes much less time to access than prior to the improvements,” Fairfield Twp. Administrator Michael Rahall said of the bypass.

Work continues to fine-tune the project.

Fairfield will be adding more road markings this year to make the correct pathway onto Diversion Road — an intersection at Bypass Ohio 4 and Dixie Highway — clearer, according to Fairfield City Engineer Ben Mann.

Intersections are given a grade of A through E, with A being the best traffic flow and E the worst. Before the new bypass, the Dixie intersection had been a C or a D. It now rates an A or a B, Mann said.

The superstreet intersections were also designed looking out to the year 2030, he said.

“We don’t want to build something and five years later find it’s over capacity. (A conventional intersection) wouldn’t have worked in 2030,” Mann said.

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