Aggravated with morning and evening traffic delays on High and Main streets, Hamilton officials plan to change the timing of traffic signals to help cars and trucks move east-west through the city less slowly.
TEC Engineering has been asked to change traffic-light timing so drivers have an extra 20 seconds of “green time” on High and Main streets (Ohio 129), at the expense of north-south streets that intersect with them, the city’s transportation and traffic engineer, Kris Butterfield, told Hamilton City Council on Wednesday.
TEC Engineering, which has worked with the city in the past, will use a software program that simulates traffic flow on Hamilton’s street grid to optimize the traffic signals, Butterfield told council. The company then will take those maximized settings and add the priority of 20 more seconds for High and Main during heavy-traffic periods of mornings and evenings.
Butterfield strongly recommended city leaders wait until construction crews finish the reconfiguration of the pinch-point intersection at High and Martin Luther King Boulevard in late March.
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“I really think that putting in these new timings will fail if we do it before the construction is complete,” Butterfield said, before the decision was made. “That’s my opinion. It’s based on my 37 years of experience being a traffic engineer …”
Butterfield believes the 20-second expansion of green lights for High Street will particularly back up traffic on northbound MLK Boulevard because the right-hand lane is closed during construction, constricting traffic as it crosses High.
His suggestion to wait until after construction was complete at High and Martin Luther King Boulevard was overruled.
Traffic consultants first need to change the traffic signalization along the route, which officials hope can happen by Feb. 1.
Irritation about cross-town traffic among city leaders and residents prompted Butterfield’s presentation.
Mayor Patrick Moeller noted High-Main traffic would be alleviated some, “if more people took Dayton, Maple, to a lesser degree, Market and Court.”
Moeller said he takes Dayton and Maple himself.
“Yeah, I do run into trains. I take that risk,” he said.
“It sounds like to me that anything going east and west, you’ve kind of got to favor over Martin Luther King, to a degree,” Moeller told Butterfield.
The issue has stirred lots of public interest, according to Moeller.
“I’ve heard more from this particular issue since it made the newspaper than probably any other topic in 2017 and the end of 2016, so this is being discussed out there, as well as pedestrian safety for crossing,” he said.
Traffic is heavy along High and Main is heavy for a couple of reasons, including that the corridor is the only one that isn’t subject to blockage by trains. Another factor is that it’s the most direct link from western parts of the county to not only Interstate 75, but also popular shopping destinations like Bridgewater Falls in Fairfield Twp. and Liberty Center in Liberty Twp.
Normally, Butterfield explained to council, traffic-light timing is set to maximize traffic flows in all directions. But in this case, he explained, the city will be giving greater priority to east-west traffic on Ohio 129 (High and Main streets).
“I know that this will improve traffic flow on (Ohio) 129,” Butterfield said. “I have concern with the plan, but it will be interesting to see what happens, because we should really improve the through traffic.”
Other ways to improve traffic flow would include greater police ticketing of people who venture into intersections when there is no room for them to advance through — blocking traffic flow on the intersection’s other street — and signs warning against clogging intersections like that, which causes gridlock
Council members also expressed interest in getting drivers to use other routes, despite the possibility of being stopped by trains, which cross High Street about every 20 minutes.
Butterfield said one long-term solution — which wouldn’t be cheap — would be to extend Washington Boulevard Northwest from West Elkton Road across a new bridge spanning the Great Miami River, and tie back into Ohio 129, perhaps at Hampshire Drive (east of Fair Avenue).
“That would divert a large amount of traffic off of High-Main street,” Butterfield said. “If we don’t start planning for that and get that in the works now, even though it’s a long-term solution, in 25 years, you’ll be going, ‘Somebody has to something about High Street congestion.’ ”
The “critical intersections” that cause backups along the High-Main route, according to Butterfield, are: Erie Boulevard and MLK Boulevard along High Street; and B Street and Eaton/Millville Avenues along Main. Work to improve the Eaton/Millville intersection, a major bottleneck, is scheduled for 2018.
“All these improvements, I think are really going to help traffic flow,” Butterfield said. “Unfortunately, it’s just not quite done yet. We still have a little bit left to go (until late March).