Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams has provided Athens-Clarke commissioners with an outline of how the county will move forward in addressing concerns about the recent reconfiguration of North Chase Street between Prince Avenue and Newton Bridge Road.
The street was repaved last month and outfitted with temporary pavement markings in line with a May 2016 directive from commissioners, led by Commissioner Melissa Link, to take a more nuanced approach to the street than the routine restriping of repaved roads to include two travel lanes, a center turn lane and bicycle lanes.
At that time, commissioners approved a host of traffic-calming measures, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, for North Chase Street.
While motorists using the road – and in particular, the business owners along the route – were happy to see the new pavement on Chase Street last month, that initial satisfaction soured as the temporary pavement markings were installed, according to Mayor Nancy Denson, who said she had heard complaints about traffic back-ups from almost every business along and near the corridor.
In a memo sent late last week, Williams told commissioners the county’s Transportation & Public Works Department will formally request that the street be returned to its original configuration at the commission’s July 18 agenda-setting meeting, with action on the request possibly coming at the commission’s Aug. 1 voting meeting. Both meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall in downtown Athens, and both will include opportunities for public comment.
In addition, Transportation & Public Works is planning a public forum on North Chase Street for July 25, according to Drew Raessler, the department director. Public input from that meeting will be forwarded to commissioners for their consideration in connection with a possible Aug. 1 vote, Raessler said.
According to Raessler, a primary concern for Transportation & Public Works is the potential for the recent changes to cause traffic on the Athens Perimeter off-ramp to North Chase Street to back up into the perimeter’s travel lanes, creating a safety hazard.
Almost as soon as the new lane markings were installed, Raessler said, county traffic engineering personnel began seeing problems.
“We observed, nearly immediately, some traffic congestion,” Raessler said.
At that point, engineers began working with traffic signal timing along the route, Raessler said, but that effort was limited by concerns about backing traffic up into the travel lanes of the perimeter.
“Our primary concern has been safety with regard to the loop,” Raessler said.
Additionally, according to Raessler, the approaching start of a new school year is causing some concern for traffic engineers. One reason for that, Raessler explained, is that the Clarke County School District’s bus garage is on Newton Bridge Road, meaning that with the Aug. 9 start of the new school year, a number of buses will be using North Chase Street, adding significant additional traffic to the problematic street.
“We wanted to take a step back,” Raessler said of the request to return North Chase Street to its original configuration. But, he added, traffic engineering personnel are favorably disposed toward having pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure along the street.
According to Williams’ memo, the Transportation & Public Works Department is proposing “a comprehensive analysis and public participation process to analyze a myriad of alternatives to deliver a complete street” — a route incorporating vehicular, pedestrian, bicycling and public transit infrastructure.
“(O)ne alternative that will be evaluated is a roundabout interchange which would replace the loop intersections with roundabouts,” Williams notes. Within that option, the memo contends “there may be an opportunity to safely reduce the capacity on the roadway segments while also improving safety, calming speeds, and accommodating multiple modes.”
Whatever changes may be coming to North Chase Street, the pavement will be marked with paint rather than raised thermal plastic strips, Raessler said.
Painted lines are easier to remove than the strips, according to Raessler. The painted lines will be marked with reflectors to increase their visibility, Raessler added.