Guard rail proposed on dangerous stretch of Route 18

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SHARON TWP., Ohio - Since improvements were completed to Route 18 between Summit and Medina Counties in 2008, the Ohio Department of Transportation says a five-mile stretch of that road has become more dangerous.

"What happened immediately after that is we started to see an increase in accidents - serious accidents and fatalities - so from 2008 to 2013 we saw 9 crashes, 10 fatalities along that route. The district started looking at it as a safety project what can we do to improve safety along that route," said Howard Huebner, the ODOT District 3 Deputy Director.

"We are seeing higher than statewide average of crashes pretty consistently since the five lane section opened up and specifically the cross lane crashes: that would be somebody in the eastbound or westbound lanes crosses over that middle two-way left turn lane and hits a vehicle going in the other direction," said Scott Ockunzzi of ODOT.

"Those are two vehicles travelling at a high rate of speed going toward each other that usually results in a serious and often fatal crash when that happens," said Ockunzzi.

The ODOT plan includes building a guard rail down the middle of the highway separating the east and westbound lanes between Medina Line and Windfall Roads.

In recent years, ODOT has added flashing speed signs, widened the white lines marking the lanes, added rumble strips and installed additional reflectors.

While the posted speed is 55 mph, ODOT says the average speed is over 60.

The idea of adding a median guard rail and forcing traffic to make u-turns at intersections to visit businesses on the opposite side of the highway has been met with resistance from many of the businesses along the stretch.

Riock Ripley of "A Better Truck Cab and Hitch" worries about the additional time it would take for safety vehicles to get to destinations if they have to make u-turns.

He also worries about large delivery trucks and semis making the u-turns.

Ripley and others along the route believe a better remedy would be to simply reduce the speed limit.

"All you are gong to do is back up traffic. Now what?  Are we slowing things down intentionally that way? Because if that is the case just reduce the speed limit," said Ripley.

"We have to do a speed zone study that warrants the speeds on every one of our highways in the state of Ohio. The Ohio revised code requires it, so we did a speed study on that route. We did an additional speed study just recently. Both have come back that the route is warranted at 55 miles an hour. We don't have the authority to lower that speed limit," said Hubner, explaining that only the state legislature has the authority to change speed limits on roads like Route 18.

Huebner says more than 22,500 vehicles use that stretch of road every day. The vast majority of them, almost 90-percent, are commuters who are not visiting the businesses there.

He says additional counter-measures are planned for the highway to try to make it safer and ODOT will examine data over the next couple of years to see if safety is improved.

"We are not looking to construction until 2020 so we are still several years out but we would like to see how the counter measures we have put in place now are working before we move forward with anything else," said Hubner.

"If there wasn't any change from today if the counter measures that we have installed today work then technically there would not be a need for the median rail," said Bob Weaver, ODOT District 3 Planning and Engineering Administrator.