Church Street – the pros and cons, complications and complaints

Outside of COVID-19, little has caused as much consternation in the City of Monroe than the roadworks on Church Street. The controversy kicked off in March when the City Council announced plans to install center-island speed calming devices on Church Street. According to city officials, residents have been complaining for years about speeders in the residential area on that road, particularly with the Pilot Park close by and families with children often walking on the sidewalk. Many, however, were not happy with the plans being considered to reduce the speed and they were even less happy with the disruptions once those plans got under way over the summer.

Church Street while still under construction. Photo credit: Darrell Everidge

At the March 3 Monroe City Council Meeting, Sam Serio with the City’s engineers Keck and Wood gave details of a traffic study that had been completed in 2018. It showed that although the posted speed limit is 30 mph, 85 % of the traffic drove at least 10 miles over the speed limit at 40 mph – and in some instances vehicles were driving at 65 mph and above. He said that median islands were the most appropriate solution for Church Street taking into consideration construction costs and minimization of impact to neighborhood properties. The islands would cost about $20,000 each and would include a brick paving art space surface for aesthetics.

At the time, residents although agreeing that speed was a problem, expressed concern that they only found out about the plans almost at the same time as they were being approved. They also worried it could possibly impact people’s ability to get out of their driveways and noted that they didn’t believe it was appropriate for the historic nature of the neighborhood. Others expressed concerns about potential delays to emergency vehicles or school buses being able to safely travel on the street. The concerns raised at the work session when it was first discussed can be viewed in the Minutes of the March 3 meeting at this link

The issue came up for a vote the following week and at that meeting more people spoke out on the issue, some still expressing concern but others voicing their support for the project. If you were unable to attend the meeting, the discussion and arguments for and against can be found in Public Comments at this link to the Minutes of the March 10 Monroe City Council meeting. The council then voted 6-2 to pass the measure with Councilmembers Norman Garrett and Myosia Crawford voting against it.

However, once construction began over the summer complaints from motorists began pouring in with some motorists even taking videos to share on social media conversations showing how slow, or fast, the road could be traversed. That raised concerns with city officials who asked that people give it time for the construction to be completed before making a judgement, and to take into account the safety of the residents in that neighborhood.

“I think it ought to be made very clear that this is still under construction,” Monroe City Administrator Logan Propes said, asking that people not encourage others to drive through it unnecessarily while it is still an active construction zone.

Motorists also complained about the fact that taxpayers money would be spent for landscaping, reportedly to be placed inside the islands. Propes said that is incorrect information.

“The landscaping is not going to be in the median as implied. Rather, it will be outside the turns and will not impede traffic. Those will be rollover pavers and curbing for fire trucks and buses to more easily maneuver. And as was posted on the city page with Q&A,” Propes said. “Fire Department and school transportion folks were consulted on design ahead of time with modifications made to design to accommodate. Additionally, there will be asphalt filling in the gaps along the curbs giving up to 2 more feet of additional clearance, which is not there currently. I would urge folks to slow down when going through this construction. I don’t think most folks would continue doing 70-80 mph when an interstate is being milled out and resurfaced in an active work zone, but we have seen plenty of people try to do the same here, going full speed (35 Mph plus) while in a clear area of construction. “

Propes said the construction was almost complete and should be done by the end of the month.

“All work on Church and Davis (Speed tables) including landscaping on Church, has a target completion date of November 1st.  Anecdotally, it has slowed up a majority of the traffic as they approach the first installation  on either end and then they carry a slower speed through the district, as intended. It’s a big change and I know that’s tough. I just hope folks eventually realize (and many do) this is the best alternative among many vetted by engineers, staff, and, council over several months. Alas, we’d rather not have had to do anything but for many, many years speeding has been a vocal concern on the street,” Propes said.

But many have complained about the wear and tear on their tires and some think that the point may have been more about detracting people from actually using the road, prompting them instead to find alternative routes.

Church Street Calming devices. Photo credit: Eric Crawford

Local Attorney Eric Crawford, whose office is on Hammond Drive, shared yet another photograph of the construction zone and noted,

“If you don’t want people driving on Church Street, why not try cobblestone? Or gravel? Or spike strips? All three would be better than what I just drove down.”

Crawford said he may just have to consider finding an alternative route.

“I don’t usually go down it except when heading to the jail or going to court in Social Circle or Newton County. So far I haven’t taken an alternative route because I forget about it, but its getting so hard on my car that I’m going to have to remember,” Crawford said.

Propes is urging people to be patient a little longer.

“I would urge everyone to give it a little time to be completed in its final form and ask that everyone slow down and drive safely through this area,” Propes said, adding, “After all, that’s the whole point here.”

The City also shared the following Q & A on its Facebook page in an effort to explain the thinking behind this road project based on the numerous questions it had received once the construction began.

From the City of Monroe’s Facebook Page:

Q: What is traffic calming and what does it seek to accomplish?

A: Traffic calming is the use of physical design to improve safety for all motorists and pedestrians by controlling speeds of motorists, changing unsafe behaviors by drivers, and to encourage more responsible driving by motorists. The concept is to create the reduction in traffic speeds altogether. Some approaches use a combination of physical changes to create psychological changes, such as street geometry and landscaping to create a sense of narrowness without actually diminishing street size.

Q: Why was it determined that traffic calming features were needed on Church Street?

A: Due to the narrowness on Church Street and the high volume of speeding traffic causing an unsafe amount of traffic for pedestrians and motorists alike, the determination was to provide for such traffic calming features. Additionally, the street is a highly residential corridor that has been over utilized as a commercial cut through by large and small vehicles alike. Oversized trucks, trailers, and tractor trailers were creating an unsafe flow in the amount of traffic and noise at higher speeds than desired…more so than local law enforcement could reasonably monitor on a regular basis.

Q: Was there a study done based on the street, traffic, area, etc.?

A: Yes, there was a study performed by the city’s traffic engineers, Keck & Wood, based on the width of the street, right-of-way width, amount and types of traffic, speed limits, conditions, and suitability of options for the desired result. The study was presented to both City officials and Council for the selection of the most effective options based on both safety and costs to citizens.

Q: Why was the street not widened prior to doing anything else to calm traffic?

A: The street was not widened due to a lack of right-of-way that exists on the street and the cost to purchase the additional right-of-way was far too expensive to consider this as an option. The widening of the street would have also eliminated sidewalks in some sections which was not an option. It would have also served not as a deterrent to speed, but providing a wider street would have actually increased speeds, which based on studies performed; wider streets ae generally more conducive to higher speeds. The current right-of-way for Church Street is mostly 40’…with it staying between 40’ and 45’ from South Broad Street to Pine Park, then it increases slightly to between 45’ and 50’ past Hammond Drive. This area doesn’t give the City much room to work and right-of-way acquisition becomes very expensive and is undesirable by home owners.

Q: What is the cost to taxpayers and where does that money come from?

A: After completion of the design and determination to pursue the traffic calming concepts as it exists, the City of Monroe put out to bid the construction of this project. The lowest bid was by Tri Scape, Inc. at $222,444.50, but this also includes a large section of Davis Street for a speed table type of traffic calming project so the entire cost is not associated with the Church Street portion of the project. The funding for this project comes from SPLOST as passed by Walton County voters.

Q: Why were speed bumps/humps not used instead since they would have cost less?

A: The various types of traffic calming features were studied for well over a year by engineers, staff, and City Council. There are many types of traffic calming features available but the challenge was to implement the one that would work best in its particular environment on Church Street and to achieve the intended results. Speed bumps/humps, while cheaper, are usually poor performers at slowing traffic for a large section of street and are generally better suited for parking lots. Drivers tend to have a slow-fast-slow-fast mentality when driving over speed bumps/humps. Being in a residential area it was thought that the loud bumps and revving engines from getting back up to speed would not be a desirable effect. The island medians make drivers slow down and keep a generally constant speed through the remainder of the installation.

Q: How are public safety, public works, and school buses going to safely traverse the new sections without damage?

A: Public Safety (Police and Fire) were consulted ahead of this project while under design. In fact, the Fire Department suggested some modifications to the median to ensure better ease of travel. All were approved by staff before recommendation. Additionally, the Walton County Board of Education’s transportation division approved the design for school busses to pass through.

Q: How are trucks with trailers going to traverse the new sections without damage?

A: We hope that large tractor trailers choose not to use this section of Church Street since it has been illegal to do so for some time. The median islands offer an extra deterrent to such behavior. If a light truck is pulling a long trailer, we would suggest alternative routes particularly where Church Street intersects with South Broad Street which is a challenging intersection to navigate when pulling a trailer of any size.

Q: Is there a suggested new path to get to areas without using Church Street?

A: Fortunately, there are alternatives to traversing only East Church Street between South Madison Avenue and Hammond Drive. The most direct route between the Carver Middle School area and downtown Monroe is by way of Hammond Drive and East Spring Street. Another alternative is GA Hwy 78 to Unisia Drive for avoidance of Church Street. Both offer great alternatives to traveling though the Church Street Historic District that is a residential area.

Q: What is the status of repaving the new areas and the street?

A: There was never going to be an easy way to complete this project, but with all of the concrete sections being complete, the contractor will now mill and pave the new areas to provide a finished lane portion of the project. The middle sections will receive pavers for stability and the outside of the street curbs will receive landscaping thus providing for the sense of narrowness aesthetically while keeping the same width to the street.

Q: The new areas do not seem safe to traffic or pedestrians, how does the City feel about this situation?

A: Vehicle speeds are greatly reduced as are traffic flows, thereby increasing the safety of pedestrians and other motorists. There are also raised apex curbing areas along the project to help protect pedestrians on sidewalks and in yards.

Q: Why is nearby South Madison Avenue so bad to travel and when can we expect that to be repaved?

A: The current project is still ongoing, as the contractor is in the process of tying over services for water and sewer utilities for the project. The infrastructure being replaced as part of this project is mostly over 50 years old and will be upgraded for the long-term stability of your utility systems. There may also be natural gas related construction happening in the weeks to follow. The City of Monroe has been in constant contact with engineers and contractors on this project to try and keep cuts and holes as protected as possible until paving can be performed. This has been hindered due to weather delays, pandemic issues, and the amount of traffic on the road itself. The entirety of South Madison Avenue over the area of this project will be repaved with sidewalk and curbing repairs sometime in late 2020 or early 2021. Keep in mind that during improvements and efforts by the City, as with any City, or with anything…efforts are made to choose the best solutions for problems that exist or develop, but there is no perfect solution to anything!

We at the City weigh all options and look for the best solutions possible while understanding not everyone will be happy with the result or the process or each component of the transformation we see. We are excited about the direction and growth of the City while also trying to maintain the small town feel that we all desire in Monroe. We apologize for any and all inconveniences that may be experienced and are here to undoubtedly help and assist everyone as you, the citizen, are our customers…we strive to create a better final product each and every day! For further information we offer the following articles…https://www.strongtowns.org/…/2019/1/8/new-20-mph-streethttps://www.pps.org/article/livememtraffic

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