UDOT reevaluating median along 700 East Sandy
700 East Safety project manager Steve Quinn answering questions from the Sandy City Council about the proposed raised median on Oct. 4, 2016. (City Journals/Chris Larson)
By Chris Larson | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a pleasantly surprising break from expectations, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is taking the raised median design for the 700 East Safety Project back to the drawing board.
Business owners and residents along the 700 East Safety Project corridor feared that adding a raised median with dedicated left-turn pockets would severely and negatively impact surrounding businesses and force traffic onto residential roads that aren’t designed to handle surface street traffic.
Project Manager Steve Quinn said other aspects of the 700 East project will continue on a slightly delayed advertising and design schedule through the winter. Road resurfacing, adding bike lanes and bringing pedestrian ramps into compliance with the most recent Americans with Disabilities Act standards from 7400 South to 9400 South will proceed regardless of the status of the median project.
Quinn told the Sandy City Journal that the median will still be installed during the 2017 construction season, but said the new design will be significantly reduced to account for comments from the public.
Quinn said a redesign of the road will include two public information meetings: one with Quinn reporting to the Sandy City Council at the end of November and another open-house style meeting early in December. Both meetings are open to the public.
Businesses and residents organized under the moniker of “Sandy Businesses Against the 700 East Median” to raise awareness on social media and gain the attention of decision makers and local news outlets to voice concerns about the restriction of an otherwise very open transit corridor.
Natural Health and Wellness owner Melissa Allred, a self-described “head committee member,” said appeals to local legislator and Utah State Senate President Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, were instrumental in setting up a meeting with UDOT where a select group of Sandy Businesses Against the 700 East Median committee members met with him and representatives from UDOT on Nov. 2.
Lee Ann Chapman, owner of Wash Me in Sandy, attended the meeting with Niederhauser and UDOT representatives and said the meeting was very candid with committee members comments and questions being “blunt.”
“We drive those streets and we see it every day,” Chapman said. “If we were seeing four to five accidents all the time and could see those safety issues as a concern, then we be going to (UDOT) saying you need to do something about this street.”
UDOT research says that 700 East has both more high-severity and a higher accident rate than is normal for a street of comparable size and shape, according UDOT public documentation. According to the same document, most of the accidents appear to happen mid-block.
“Project features will increase safety for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians by designating specific turn locations and thereby decreasing the number and severity of crashes mid-block,” UDOT states via a newsletter.
But research and data queried by the committee members and the opposition committee say certain documents used to justify the project show that most of the incidents occur at intersections, rather than by people turning across traffic to enter or exit neighborhoods and businesses.
“We wanted to go in there with facts and not just emotion to the meeting,” Allred said. She said she and other committee members worked with the city administration and the police department to get records detailing crash data for the area.
Business owners also told the UDOT representatives that the open-house presentations that were held earlier this year to educate the locals made it sound like the project was final and concrete, that nothing could be done to change or stop it.
“(The representatives) said that was not intent of those meetings and not how they like it to be and not how it should be,” Chapman said.
Quinn addressed the city council on Oct. 4 and fielded several questions about the council, especially about business access and the possibility of commuters frequenting neighborhoods to avoid or get to areas that only allow certain turns.
“It’s very tricky in these things to try and accommodate every need,” Quinn said. “Today people have full movement across that corridor. In certain cases it’s just not possible to provide that same open access and control that access at the same time.”
Quinn said skipping the medians would defeat a major point of the $3 million project.
A department head said after the meeting that meetings with UDOT engineers had already added three additional dedicated left-turn pockets to help increase access to businesses.
Councilwoman Maren Barker, District 2, whose district would be most affected, said her concern is both the access and success of businesses and also the safety of the residents.
“How much traffic are we going to push into the neighborhoods just to get off 700 East?” Barker asked. She also said many of the roads are narrow and do not have a curb and gutter. This is compounded when many visitors to the area park on the street.
She pointed out there are five schools along 700 East that attract many children to the area, being transported in vehicles and that walk through the neighborhoods to get to these schools. She fears forcing more traffic to the neighborhoods would increase the possibility of accidents involving children.
Councilmen Stephen Smith, at-large, and Chris McCandless, District 4, said they had experienced major dips in revenue to business ventures that relied on convenience of access.
Many of the business along the project corridor are convenience-based businesses that rely on high foot traffic for success, like car washes, gas stations, vehicle supply and repair and other small businesses.
“In this day and age, we are creatures of convenience,” Allred said. “We go where it is easy, we go where there is the least resistance.”
Her husband is a practicing chiropractor at their business and has garnered a wide-ranging clientele.
“People come from all over the state and some out of the state,” Allred said. “If it became inconvenient to go to his office people will question why they are driving 40 minutes to go somewhere closer.”
UDOT will likely push contract advertising to Jan. 2017, Quinn said. He also said the plan initially was to advertise in November.
Quinn also said the designs will alter the nature of the shoulders, bike lanes and lane width with removing significant portions of the median.