Well-traveled access to Williamsburg may close

Opinions and ideas concerning an intersection near Williamsburg are flying faster and thicker than rush hour traffic after a state decision was announced to close down the McKeever Pike crossing at state Route 32.

The closing was publicly announced in late June by a sign posted at the intersection, but public sentiment concerning the possible closure has been anything but supportive of the notion, which would, according to local officials, cut off a well-used and vital access for residents and industrial traffic.

“ODOT made a decision to close the McKeever Pike intersection at state Route 32,” said Williamsburg Mayor Mary Ann Lefker. “As you can imagine, we’re very opposed to this. That’s a direct access to our village from state Route 32. It links the highway directly to our industrial district. If trucks are forced to take an alternate route, it’s not a good thing. Anybody who looks at the north side of McKeever, there are a large number of houses that way that would force people to find other routes to state Route 32 that aren’t good alternatives. The effect on our village would be devastating.”

According to Bari Henning, a Williamsburg Township Trustee, an announcement concerning the road closure was received by the the trustees late last year, but nothing had been heard since that time concerning the fate of the road. According to Henning, township correspondence in November concerning the closure announcement received no response from the state, until the sign posted in June announced the closure by July 10.

“Last October, we got a carbon copy saying it would be closing because they received complaints about it,” said Henning. “It said they were looking for ways to make it better, and decided to do so by closing it. We responded with concerns, the biggest being the additional response time to residents of that area. However, we didn’t get any kind of response back until they put up the signs saying they were going to close it.”

Jay Hamilton, a traffic planning engineer with the Ohio Department of Transportation district 8, which Clermont County falls under, said that there was no opposition sent concerning the closure until the sign was posted. According to Hamilton, the decision was made to close it based on incidents of traffic accidents.

“We sent letters out to the county, the township and the EMS, and we got letters back, but none of them said not to do it,” said Hamilton. “We then proceeded with the option of taking it out. We put out the sign saying we would close it, which is our last attempt at getting input, and that’s when we started to hear things.”

According to Hamilton, the intersection of McKeever and state Route 32 had a similar accident rate as De La Palma Road, which is less than a mile from McKeever, had before it received a traffic light. However, said Hamilton, that road carries more traffic, making the accident rate McKeever higher per driver.

“We had been contacted about accidents at that intersection, and we looked at it and there were about 22 over the space of three years,” said Hamilton. “Almost all of those involved people turning left into or crossing over and turning left out of McKeever. Our proposal was to eliminate the left turns by removing the crossover.”

The plan currently designated by ODOT would include leaving the road open on both sides of state Route 32, but would eliminate the crossover portion, effectively keeping traffic from crossing any lanes of highway. One option, he said, would be to keep a crossing used by emergency crews only that would not line up with McKeever, allowing rescue units to cross there, but forcing them to make a slight “jog” to cross. Henning said that a primary concern of the township was rescue response time. Henning added that the closure procedure was started after only one complaint.

“We found out later that they had one complaint,” said Henning. “After the signs went up, everyone realized that they were going to do it, so the residents spoke up. The trustees still stood on the emergency response time. The village also had a concern over the economic impact on them if it was closed. With that, we were able to get ahold of ODOT and they agreed to delay the closure until we could come up with an idea to improve the intersection without closing it.”

Both Lefker and Henning said that they wish to work toward an equable solution with ODOT, which Hamilton said was the option currently being explored in the situation. However, said Hamilton, should a solution proposed locally be accepted, but prove ineffective at reducing accidents, then the closure will likely proceed.

“We have the understanding that, whatever we come up with, if it doesn’t alleviate the accidents, then we would go back to removing the crossover,” said Hamilton. “The township is going to send us some thoughts, as well as the local residents and village, on what they think we can do. We’ll have a follow-up sometime to go over those plans.”

Lefker, who said that an informal count of residents north of state Route 32 who would use the intersection showed nearly 150 houses would be impacted by the closure.

“We want to work with them,” said Lefker. “We did an informal count on the number of houses north of 32 from 32 to Jackson Pike. I don’t think they realize the growth over there. There are 144 houses. All of those probably come out to 32. Our hope is that they’ll reconsider.”

Residents of the area are encouraged to contact either the village, the township or the ODOT office with their opinions and ideas. Henning said that a meeting will likely be held in August to come up with a solution to present to ODOT.

“They heard our concerns and decided to hold up,” said Henning. “Maybe we can come up with a better solution.”

Ideas or comments can be mailed to ODOT, care of Jay Hamilton, at 505 South SR 741, Lebanon, Ohio, 45036.