OFF THE WIRE
Fatality renews residents' push for lower speed limit *
A deadly car, motorcycle crash at Wright and School House roads is bringing residents' concerns to the forefront once again. By JANET THIEDE Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 7:08 AM EDT
A makeshift memorial at Wright and School House roads in Violet Township, the scene of a fatality Oct. 5. Residents have renewed their efforts to lower the 50 mph speed limit on the road. A small wooden cross, flowers and a balloon reading "We Miss You" were the only evidence that marked the scene Thursday, Oct. 6, of a fatal accident involving a motorcycle and a Jeep the night before at the intersection of Wright and School House roads. Traffic passed by at its normal, freeway rate of speed.
According to the Lancaster Post of the State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the accident on the Fairfield County road, a vehicle driven by Timothy Vedrinski, 44, of Canal Winchester was traveling westbound on Wright waiting to turn south onto School House Road.
When Vedrinski made the left turn in front of the motorcycle driven by Thomas Bender, 53, of Pickerington, who was traveling eastbound on Wright, the two collided and Bender, who was not wearing a helmet, was ejected from his motorcycle.
Vedrinski was treated at the scene for minor injuries by Violet Township Emergency Medical Services personnel.
Bender was taken to Grant Hospital where he later died of his injuries.
The accident on the 1.5-mile road, portions of which fall under the jurisdiction of Fairfield and Franklin counties, prompted memories for residents of the road of three other fatalities within a half-mile of of each other and many other accidents along the two-lane stretch of road that intersects with Diley Road and becomes Columbus Street at that intersection.
The Fairfield County Engineer's office records indicate that since 2006, there have been six other accidents recorded on that stretch of roadway, including one fatality in 2007.
However, data retrieved from the Fairfield County Sheriff's office cites eight incidents on that 0.5-mile stretch since Jan. 1, 2009.
There was also a double fatality in 2002 not far from the site of the fatal crash last Wednesday, Oct. 4,according to Fairfield County Engineer Frank Anderson.
The Franklin County Engineer's office maintains separate data for its 0.5 mile stretch of Wright Road, reporting 16 accidents -- four of them with injuries -- since 2001. None of the accidents recorded in Franklin County were listed as serious or fatal.
In 2001, residents along Wright Road petitioned the Fairfield Board of County Commissioners requesting the road be studied and its speed limit reduced to 50 mph.
That "Warrant for Speed Zone Study," conducted by the Fairfield County Engineer's office, was reviewed by the Ohio Department of Transportation and the speed was lowered for the Fairfield County portion of the roadway.
"The last time we did the study the results came out that 50 mph was the lowest we could get it lowered to," Anderson said.
According to the Anderson, Franklin County Traffic Design Engineer William "Fritz" Crosier, and ODOT officials, there is a "prescribed method" for changing the speed along a roadway.
"The purpose of the revised code and the process is to make sure people aren't establishing speed limits arbitrarily -- that there is a uniformity across the state to maximize the safety of the traveling public and make sure that no one is setting up speed traps," said Joe Rutherford, deputy director of the ODOT District 5.
Residents said because of the fatality last Wednesday a new study of the speed limit is warranted.
Several of them said they have had vehicles end up in their yards or watched as rescue crews have worked to save the lives of accident victims, including a neighbor.
Lisa Reade, who lives a few residences away from the site of the fatality said she had a motorist die in her front yard after a previous accident.
She said she notified the Fairfield County Engineer's office of the most recent fatality and initiated the first speed study.
She and other neighbors believe the road has become a major "cut through" for motorists trying to avoid driving on a very busy State Route 256 as well as a direct route to the popular Pickerington Ponds Metro Park, which is within 0.5 miles of a majority of the accidents.
"My husband has tried to slow down to turn into our driveway and many times he's just had to floor it to keep from getting rear-ended," said Angela Rohrenbeck, who lives across the street from where the most-recent fatality occurred.
"Then, pulling out, you have to be careful because people are just flying through here," she added.
Executive Director of Metro Parks John O'Meara said he would also like to see the speed limit reduced or the roadway turned into a cul-de-sac.
Several years ago a proposal was made to do just that, but it has never made it off the drawing board.
"Right now, Wright Road is a through road right in the middle of the park and people tend to drive too fast on it and then there's an impact on our park visitors and on our park wildlife," O'Meara said.
"We'd rather not have that situation, but it is not our choice," he added.
According to the Fairfield County Engineer's office, Wright Road is considered a medium traveled road.
The most recent traffic count taken by Fairfield County Nov. 23, 2010, indicated that 1,828 vehicles travel that road on a daily basis.
Residents said they want a new traffic study done in order to get the limit reduced to 45 mph, which is the same speed as Diley, and 20 mph more than the speed limit on the Columbus Street portion.
"I just think people react differently when you see a '4' in front of your speed limit than you do when there is a '5,' " Reade said.
Speed limit study process
In order to have another formal speed study conducted, residents of Wright Road are required to get a petition signed by 25 people and submit it to the Fairfield Board of County Commissioners.
Last time, the "Warrant Study" was done, residents did not realize that they would also have to ask Franklin County to review its stretch of the roadway.
Franklin County only requires one person send the engineer a formal letter detailing their concerns as well as contact information.
When they receive the requests, the Fairfield and Franklin county engineers complete the same state of Ohio form for their respective roadways.
The review includes the number of houses or farms, geometrics of the road, accidents -- not involving animals -- only within a three-year period, pace speed of vehicles, and many other numbers that are plugged into a formula to determine what the true speed should be.
The engineers and ODOT cautioned there are times when such a study can actually result in an increased speed limit.
They said the public assumes that if cars are consistently traveling above the speed limit on roadways, than it should be reduced. However, the engineers say often the data actually supports increasing the speed limit because the geometrics of the road prove it can handle higher speed limits.
Once the study is completed, the findings are sent to ODOT for review.
Because Wright Road involves two separate counties, the Fairfield County portion would be reviewed by ODOT District 5 and the portion in Franklin County would be checked by ODOT District 6.
So, the possibility does exist, according to officials, that data for the entire 1.5 mile stretch of Wright Road could never be examined as a whole.
If the findings of the study "warrant" a change, then ODOT "journalizes" or sets the new legal speed limit.
In an email to Reade, Anderson stated it is doubtful the speed limit will be lowered because the required state data collection forms only take into account non-animal related accidents within the past three years.
He acknowledged that "... speeding is definitely a problem along this stretch of open roadway... ," and copied the sheriff's office in his email to ask them to do what they can to monitor the problem.
"However, the sheriff cannot be there at all times, and we find often that after any enforcement attempt of the speed limit is made, drivers return to driving at what they feel is reasonable, which in this case appears to be faster than the warranted speed limit of 50 mph," Anderson wrote.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Wright Road residents still say they plan to pursue getting the speed limit changed.
"My husband has tried to slow down to turn into our driveway and many times he's just had to floor it to keep from getting rear-ended. Then, pulling out, you have to be careful because people are just flying through here."