Meridian Township Board supports Jolly Road’s diet

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The Meridian Township Board voted unanimously to support the Ingham County Road Department’s road-diet plan to change Jolly Road from four to three lanes.

A road diet is a technique in transportation planning where the number of travel lanes and/or effective width of the road is reduced to improve the flow of traffic.

Rick Shafer, a former Traffic and Transportation Committee member said that when he first first heard about the project, he thought it seemed counterintuitive to restrict traffic to three lanes.

Currently, one lane is typically used for through traffic while the other lane is used for right turns and the inner, eastbound lane is used for left turns, for example at Okemos High School and Hiawatha Elementary School.

The Ingham County Road Department met with the Okemos School District to review whether the high school’s traffic flow can be improved for better overall efficiency. 

“There will still be four lanes, but they would be reassigned to how they are being used, especially at peak hours, particularly to access the high school,” said Bill Conklin, manager of the Ingham County Road Department.

The Jolly Road project was selected by the board and placed into the current four-year Federal Aid Project Program in 2018 with construction plans for 2022, but in December 2019, officials moved up the project to 2020 as part of a necessary re-ordering.

Although the principal purpose of the Ingham County Road Department is to have a left turn and to have a signal, some residents were uncertain about the legality of this type of turn.

Thomas Wollf, an Okemos resident, said his experience as a civil engineer gives him an understanding of traffic engineering, but he has never been clear about whether the two-step left turn is legal. 

Conklin, with approval from Meridian Township Police, assured residents that the two-step left turn is not only legal but also more safe.

“We’ll have what we call a permitted, protected left-turn phase,” Conklin said. “That means left turns will be permitted during the through movement at Jolly Road, and then it will be allowed to clear through with a green arrow.”

But several studies showing disapproval of road diets concerned some residents.

In response, Ingham County Road Department studied two recent road diets in Ingham County, local to the area with similar traffic, similar land use and each with schools on the roads that have already been converted to a road diet.

“The traffic volumes, although it appears to be fairly busy, is not as high as we thought,” Conklin said. “Under 15,000 vehicles per day, typically a road does very well with capacity and traffic in a road diet.”

Holt Road in 2016 and Michigan Avenue in 2015 underwent a road diet.

Holt Road had a total of 26 crashes before the road diet transition, and the intersection had a total of 16 crashes in 2017-2018 after the construction.

Michigan Avenue also tallied 10 fewer crashes after it was converted to a road diet. 

Residents said they were also worried about how this road construction would impact the safety of those driving non-motorized vehicles.

“I hope there’s a way to invest in more permanent road markings because as a cyclist, it is the fog lines that save my life,” said Bill McConnel, an Okemos resident.

The Planning Commission report states that the Ingham County Road Department can supply and install all signing, tall traffic cones and any barricades needed with a $3,275 budget.

“I applaud the road department for this design; I think it’s going to make things safer, especially with rear-end crashes,” said Mike Unsworth, a Haslett resident.

The next Township Board Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 18, and the next Transportation Commission Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 19.