City engineers are asking motorists to respect the double-yellow line Monday morning when two-way traffic begins on West Exchange Street from the Innerbelt to Akron Children’s Hospital.
“They need to just be aware. This is a new traffic pattern,” said Mark Moore, Akron’s interim city engineer.
“Pay attention. Be safe. Be careful. Follow speed limits,” advised Moore, who is planning one last safety inspection Monday morning to check traffic lights, signs and road lines. If all is in order, crews will wait until after rush hour then remove the orange barrels blocking the new westbound lane of W. Exchange Street, opening up two-way travel from Rand Avenue to Bowery Street.
The overall street project, first conceptualized in 2012 and under construction for nearly three years, includes the repaving and shrinking of Cedar Street a block south. Deputy Public Service Director Chris Ludle said the overall $11.6 million project, which includes $8.3 million in federal funding, is now projected to come in under budget at around $11 million.
That’s despite having to reconstruct Exchange Street when workers unearthed old wooden and steel trolley tracks last year. Removing the tracks postponed the repaving until after winter when asphalt plants reopened this spring.
The two-way traffic pattern starting Monday is designed to expedite travel to Akron Children’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Akron General on Cedar Street. Instead of circling a grid of one-way streets, motorists will now be able to reach a new emergency room entrance at Children’s directly from the Innerbelt at Rand Avenue.
“The changes on West Exchange Street will improve access for families when they need us most," said Children's Hospital President and CEO Grace Wakulchik.
"As a regional health center specializing in children, we receive patients in our emergency department and critical care unit from 20 Northeast Ohio counties. Many of these patient families are unfamiliar with downtown Akron’s street system, particularly the one-way streets,” Wakulchik said.
Along with a social media campaign and internal staff communications to raise awareness, Children's has updated its online campus map, placed a banner on its website for visitors on the ER locations page and broadcasted the traffic change on flat screens around the hospital.
The city will maintain signage for a few months to help motorists navigate the new pattern.
Ultimately, all of Exchange Street will be two-way from Middlebury to the Innerbelt. One last section remains under construction in front of Bricco near Main Street. There, construction crews are wrapping up sewer work, connecting basins near the surface to a one-mile long tunnel 150 feet below downtown.
Ludle said the sewer hole will be filled in a month, and the rest of Exchange will be paved and ready to drive on later this year.
Next up, as construction continues on Main Street, city engineers are studying two-way traffic patterns for Broadway and High streets through downtown. Moore said the study should take 12 to 18 months, after which city staff would design the projects and seek funding sources.
Beacon Journal staff writer Rick Armon contributed to this report. Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.