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Concept plan to calm M-24 traffic makes its debut

October 30, 2013 - A concept plan to calm traffic along M-24 through Oxford Village, making it safer for pedestrians and motorists, was presented at both the village council and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meetings last week.

Created by Jim Sharpe, an engineer based in Oxford, the plan shows numerous proposed improvements to M-24 (Washington St.) between East St. to the north and Minnetonka Dr. to the south.

The concept plan calls for additional traffic signals; the installation of multiple crosswalks with colored concrete to make them more visible to motorists; the creation of left-turn lanes at certain intersections to reduce the number of rear-end collisions; and the construction of raised medians dividing north and southbound M-24 to both slow traffic and give pedestrians a safe harbor while crossing the busy state highway.

For a point-by-point description of the proposed improvements, please see "Improvements in M-24 concept plan."

"This is basically just a very preliminary starting point," Sharpe said. "We'd like to develop it further and take it back to MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and get some approval from them."

At this point, there's no cost estimate for the concept plan because nothing is final and changes could still be suggested or required.

Village officials hired Sharpe to create this concept plan so they have an alternative to present to MDOT, which has its own idea of what it wants to happen to M-24.

Right now, MDOT has $1.48 million in safety grant funding approved for 2018 to install a center left-turn lane from Minnetonka Dr. all the way to just south of Burdick St. This would effectively make M-24 a five-lane road along that stretch.

Village Manager Joe Young explained state money was allocated for this project due to the high number of traffic crashes along this stretch. Many are rear-end collisions because there is no center left-turn lane.

"They are trying to reduce the number of accidents and that was their plan," he said.

But village officials fear the addition of this fifth lane will only serve to make traffic flow faster through town and do nothing to enhance pedestrian safety.

Village officials met with MDOT representatives back in August and the state agreed to give the municipality some time to come up with an alternative plan.

"They're at the point where they're ready to start design plans and we told them we want to give you our concept, what we'd like to see, first and they agreed to that," Young said.

Whatever the final plan for M-24 ends up being, it will be the village's responsibility to secure all of the right-of-way on the east and west sides necessary for any improvements.

"We're going to be needing about 7 feet on each side of the road in most instances," Sharpe said.

"We'll see if that's an issue for some buildings that are pretty close to the roadway already," Young noted. "It's something we'll need to take a look at."

There was some question as to how much money the village would need to acquire all the necessary right-of-way.

According to Young, there are "some people" who have already indicated their willingness to deed their property to the village at no cost "because they realize the safety aspect."

"Not only safety, but it also affects their businesses," the manager said. "Customers will not turn left to go to those businesses."

Young said they will try to convince all the property owners that these improvements will "benefit" them and increase the value of their properties.

"Hopefully, we'll get everybody to go along with the program," he said. "That's the plan."

Sharpe stressed this plan is only conceptual right now and things will most likely change as more input is gathered from the various government boards, local business owners, property owners and residents.

"We still have several steps to go before we get into a final product," he said. "We're going to get everybody's input and then try to come up with a plan that we think would work best based on all the comments . . . We definitely want to get everybody on board with it, or at least have the discussions, before we go to MDOT in case there's any significant changes."

For instance, in Sharpe's mind, the raised medians were going to be 6 inches high.

But Fire Chief Pete Scholz, who serves on the DDA board, expressed his concern about them making it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate M-24 at certain times.

The chief explained that when M-24 traffic is "really heavy and congested," emergency vehicles must often drive in the center area of the road to get through.

"I completely see where you're coming from," said Sharpe, who noted the height of the medians could potentially be adjusted so as to allow emergency vehicles to drive on them if necessary. "We're definitely taking a look at it. It's definitely a very valid concern."

How these medians would be decorated is another issue.

If there was landscaping on them, it would need to be artificial as natural plants wouldn't survive because of the road salt used during the winter, Young said.

DDA Chairman and Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn suggested having M-24 truck traffic that wants to head east on Lakeville Rd. turn down Broadway St. and take Glaspie St. in order to avoid the congestion and difficult turn at Burdick/Washington intersection.

"That would calm a lot of the traffic, at least northbound traffic, downtown," he said.

"We can certainly look into it," Sharpe replied.

One audience member, a woman who did not identify herself, but indicated she's lived in Oxford for 44 years, was not pleased with what she heard.

"This seems like a pipe dream to me," she said. "I quit walking up town in 1985 because it was way too risky. I used to bring my grandchilren up there. I had a business in Oxford for 25 years. I don't see any way you can fix what's been allowed to happen to Oxford to make it safe for people who actually live here. And that is just being realistic. We're dumping thousands of dollars into all these plans. We have over the years (and) none of them have worked.

"I think this is just another one of the pipe dreams. The only way you're going to get people to shop our stores is if you flip the store-fronts backwards, so (shoppers) don't have to walk down M-24. There's no other way to do it . . . I don't know why we're spending all this money to change something that cannot be changed."

Councilman Bryan Cloutier noted that this M-24 concept plan is different than the streetscape plan that the DDA had been previously working on.

"Streetscape is all that gingerbread crap," he said. "This is really something different in terms of being more driven primarily by safety and traffic calming. It has nothing really to do with streetscape, at least not in my mind.

"I think it is significantly different than what people are saying – you know, 'it's just another streetscape grand plan.' It's not that at all."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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