Hillsboro business owners spoke at a Hillsboro City Council Meeting to comment Wednesday about a proposed Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) safety project to improve crosswalks on U.S. Route 50 and U.S. Route 62 in Hillsboro.
Under the proposed project, the crosswalks at the Main Street and High Street intersection would be replaced with new high visibility crosswalks including new pavement markings, center median refuge islands, and solar powered pedestrian activated beacons.
A number of local business owners are at odds with the planned project because it would eliminate 15 uptown parking spaces. East Main Street would lose four parking spots, South High Street would lose five parking spots, and West Main Street would lose six parking spots.
“I own Merle Norman Cosmetics and I am the president of the uptown business association and I am here tonight about the grant that the city got to make the uptown more pedestrian friendly,” said Rachelle Trefz. “I am all for safety, but I don’t feel that removing 15 parking spots is the answer. With new businesses coming, parking is going to be an even bigger issue, so I would like to ask the city to reconsider the issue.”
Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott said the project is being undertaken for safety reasons because of pedestrian accidents that have occurred over a number of years. She said there have been two or three instances of people being struck in crosswalks.
Local business owner Steve Wilkin asked if there is a way to complete the project and still keep most or all of the parking spots.
“ODOT and the city are not above the law, so we do have to follow it, but we can ask them, absolutely,” said Abbott. “When the city put in for this grant, we were unaware that parking was going to be taken away, but the idea behind the grant was just to ensure that pedestrians are safe.”
Abbott said that although safety is the top priority of the project, economic development concerns are also a priority and need to be considered.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “I realize there’s two problems, and they both need to be fixed, and we are working diligently to ensure both of them are fixed.”
Local business owner Kevin Robbins said ODOT representatives have stopped responding to him. “They don’t want to hear from us because they feel this was kind of mishandled in the beginning, that a consulting firm should have been brought on to come up with plans and ideas on how this could possibly be done rather than having them engineer it from the beginning because they’re just going to come up with one idea, which is what we currently have,” he said.
Robbins said the parking spaces are extremely valuable to those who own local businesses. “The best guess that we have from a revenue standpoint is these parking spots are worth somewhere between $280 to $400 daily,” he said. “If you do that, on the low end, that parking spot is worth about $30,000 a year, and if you eliminate 15 of those, you’re talking half a million dollars over the course of a year that’s not coming into our uptown area to all these people.”
Robbins suggested putting together two or three alternatives options and determining which works best.
“I’m not an engineer, so I can’t say we change it and keep the spots, but certainly it’s something we can ask,” said Abbott.
The project is currently within its public commenting period with ODOT. Written comments should be submitted by Aug. 31 to Brandon Beck, ODOT District 9 Environmental Supervisor, 650 Eastern Ave., Chillicothe, Ohio 45601 or by email to Brandon.Beck@dot.ohio.gov.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.