"Route 50 is the first impression many have of Dearborn County," Christine Mueller told me over breakfast on Saturday. And it's not very positive.
Chris is a true citizen activist, who just so happens to be a member of the Planning Commissioners Journal editorial advisory board. She helped set up a meeting where I could learn more about this important issue facing Dearborn County.
A drive along Route 50 is not very appealing -- both in terms of its visual character and its congested traffic. Suicide lanes abound, there are curb cuts everywhere, and the built landscape is a total jumble without any sort of consistency. The result has been frustrated motorists and dangerous conditions.
The situation in this growing commuter corridor just west of Cincinnati has been compounded by the addition of riverfront casinos right off Route 50. They've prospered, drawing people from the Cincinnati area and beyond. Route 50, as Chris explained, serves multiple functions: a heavy duty commuter artery; casino visitors; and local shopping and travel needs. In fact, Chris told me that some older local residents are petrified of using Route 50.
Just about everyone agrees something needs to be done to improve Route 50. The question is what.
The Indiana Dept. of Transportation several years ago began to plan for major corridor improvement. However, many Dearborn County residents and officials were concerned that the I-DOT study was focusing too narrowly just on transportation. I-DOT was not considering land use issues and impacts or the visual character of the corridor.
As a result, a County led study was begun in February 2006, with assistance from "OKI" (the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana regional council of governments and transportation planning organization). Remarkably, in just one year the study was completed -- and accepted by the County. (The I-DOT study is still underway).
A broad ranging advisory committee worked with the consulting team. One major constraint is the area's topography, with Route 50 squeezed between river and hills. No major bypass is possible.
[the Development Map from the study report shows the topographic constraints, Greendale is at the upper right (northeast) while Dillsboro is in the lower left]
So solutions focus within the existing corridor. The report sets out a detailed series of recommendations for specific intersection and roadway access improvements. It also identifies redevelopment opportunities along Route 50. As Bill Miller of OKI told me, the consultants walked every foot of the 18 mile long corridor.
photos below show one key intersection needing improvements and access management; heading west the road leading to the Argosy Casino cuts off Route 50 here; diagonally across Route 50 is a major car dealership.
One goal, as County Commissioner Ralph Thompson told me is "de-bottlenecking." The access management approach will help greatly with this. In fact, the words "access management" repeatedly came up as we drove up and down the corridor (joined also by Mark McCormack, the County Planning & Zoning Director, and Steve Lampert, the City Manager for Greendale on the east end of the corridor).
[photo next to Route 50; left to right: Ralph Thompson, Bill Miller, Christine Mueller, Mark McCormack, Steve Lampert]
It was easy to see why access management is an important issue. There are even residences that front directly on Route 50 -- where the homeowners have to scramble across the roadway to reach their vehicles.
As I noted, the I-DOT study is still underway. The hope is that the County study recommendations will be integrated with the strategy the State adopts. Improvements can't come too soon.