WILMINGTON, OH – The long-awaited Rombach Avenue Improvements Project “is one of the City of Wilmington’s most ambitious road construction projects,” said a City official at the beginning of the project. After funding snags and a year’s delay due to COVID-19 concerns, the improvements to the Rombach Avenue corridor began June 1, 2021. The project is three miles long and begins at the intersection of Fife Avenue and Rombach Avenue, ending at the eastern corporation limit at Starbuck Road.
If you visit Wilmington, Ohio you will likely encounter Rombach Avenue, a main artery within the eastern part of the city. There you will find shops, eateries, schools, and workplaces. Due to its heavy usage, one would surmise improvements must be made at some point, but according to concerned citizens, it is important for elected officials to do what they said they were going to do.
In January 2020, prior to construction, residents and business owners expressed strong concerns to City Council and Mayor John Stanforth about the original details of the project’s scope, which included placing concrete medians in the center of Rombach Avenue. Objections aired ranged from the loss of revenue, taxes, real estate devaluation, and emergency delays, as placing barriers in the middle of the road could severely limit ingress and egress from businesses for patrons, delivery vehicles, or in case of a medical crisis the delay in life-saving services.
As originally reported in The Wilmington News Journal, Mayor Stanforth noted the concerns of the business owners and agreed to proceed with the Rombach Avenue Project without implementing any medians.
Upon visiting The City of Wilmington’s website, one will find an overview of the Current project, complete with a layout of the plan: a sliding map, list of funding sources, and features to be finished within one years’ time; Which includes: “removing left turns with mid-block access points and the construction of a loon”.
Like any vehicle maneuver, left turns can pose danger as one must consider the driving of other motorists and hazards such as blind spots, however, turn lanes can be very efficient and convenient in circumventing traffic from clogging up, especially at peak hours. Turn lanes also enable motorist to cross the road when needed, opposed to taking detours. Removing the left turn lane option limits that ability.
The projected elimination of left turns on Rombach is to be coupled with creating mid-block access points, (which are not recommended for areas with frequent intersections or crosswalks). Shown below is a depiction of a mid-block access point crosswalk, as provided by The City of Kent, OH.
However, instead of a Mid-Block Crosswalk, a Pedestrian Crossing Island was built on Rombach Avenue in November of 2021 – as pictured below.
What is the difference? According to The Ohio Department of Transportation, a Pedestrian Crossing Island is defined as: “A raised median island in the center of the roadway at a crosswalk”.
Jonathan McKay, a City of Wilmington Council member, responded to a request for comment, as to which businesses were previously notified about the new median construction feature, since it would directly impact all their services. Initially, the councilmember said he “did not know.” However, he later disclosed he “knew that the one location, that would be impacted the most, signed off on the project.”
Shortly after the new Pedestrian Crossing Island’s debut, it quickly raised questions, considering some were against implementing medians to begin with. Dairy Queen Owner, Keith Chambers who is directly affected, expressed his reservations: “I am genuinely concerned about how trucks will be able to continue making deliveries to our location. We may be forced to move the franchise. People are also still trying to turn left out of Dairy Queen, and it is a safety hazard.”
The New Media Guardian contacted Wendy’s Restaurant for comment. There has been no response at this time.
Potential for danger has already increased as the roadwork plan to enhance safety has begun to take effect.
Currently under construction is another new feature on Rombach Avenue – the addition of a loon at the Progress Way intersection. In an interview with Channel 2 News, Engineer Paul Gruner defines a loon and its purpose: “It’s pavement that’s constructed outside the normal lanes so people can make a U-turn when there is a median in the roadway, it gives them room to make their full turn. So, they don’t have to back up.”
This leads to the question of how and why large trucks and vehicles can make U-turns in a one-way lane of traffic. Does this mean more medians are coming?
There are many lingering questions with the Rombach Avenue Project, no doubt. But the most critical of all, if local government publicly agreed not to install medians on the roadway after hearing the overarching concerns of residents and business owners, on whose authority and why are medians being installed under the City’s “revised” plans? Does changing the name of a median strip to “Pedestrian Crossing Island” justify going against the will of the people?