Historic Fowlers Mill Road Area Homeowner Wants Guardrail Put Back
“It’s not mandatory, it’s not warranted. It is not intended to be put back.” — Shane Hajjab
Fowlers Mill Road residents turned out en force Tuesday to let Munson Township Trustees know they are afraid the county engineer’s plans to ditch a guardrail could put drivers and property owners in danger.
Shane Hajjab with the Geauga County Engineer’s Department took most of the heat as about a dozen residents insisted the guardrail along Fowlers Mill should be replaced with another when the county replaces the aged, wooden bridge this summer.
Robert Voss and Kate Wheeler own a 2.1-acre triangle along the creek and just south of the bridge. The couple was concerned removal of the guardrail along the west side of Fowlers Mill will leave their yard and extensive gardens unprotected from vehicles that could leave the road and roll down the embankment into their yard and gardens. Voss said he and his family spend a lot of time in their garden and could be injured if a guardrail isn’t in place to stop errant vehicles.
Fowlers Mill is an historic tourist area, he said, and traffic is often heavy and fast for a two-lane township road.
“There is a lot of traffic on this road. To have no guard rail there defies logic,” Voss said.
A show of hands during the 90-minute discussion indicated all the present property owners wanted a guardrail at the bridge rather than a sloped embankment.
However, the county follows state criteria for the placement of guardrails, Hajjab said, and those rules do not require a guardrail along Fowlers Mill or on the bridge.
“If you hit a guard rail, you cause damage to yourself and others,” he said. When a vehicle bounces off a guardrail, it usually deflects into the opposite lane into oncoming traffic, and the county is responsible to make sure that doesn’t happen. Less damage is done on the roadway if a vehicle that veers off the road to the right just continues on that track, Hajjab said, adding the engineer must design a safe bridge.
“It’s our prerogative,” he said, and all bridges in the county are the responsibility of the county engineer. Safety on the road is the engineer’s main concern, he said. Eliminating the guardrail and creating an embankment with a 3:1 slope is the less dangerous solution, Hajjab said. The guardrail is not part of the plan that was approved by Geauga County Commissioners Tuesday morning.
“It’s not mandatory, it’s not warranted,” he said. “It is not intended to be put back.”
Additionally, the structure now in place was 3.5 feet outside the road right-of-way and the embankment will not encroach on the Voss-Wheeler property, Hajjab said.
Trustee Irene McMullen said she was surprised the commissioners took action.
“Were the county commissioners aware of the level of concern?” she asked Hajjab.
“I wasn’t aware of the level of interest,” Hajjab said, but the project has been in the design stage for several months and was listed on the commissioner’s agenda, which is available to the public.
Ray Painter, who lives across the road from Voss and Wheeler, said he met with Shane twice on the matter.
“He took care of all my concerns on my side of the property,” Painter said, but admitted the traffic along Fowlers Mill is frightening and slowing it down would be a good goal.
McMullen said the township has a lot of young, inexperienced and fast drivers and the road is dangerous.
After about an hour of discussion, Hajjab said the county plan does not include a guardrail on the bridge project, but there is nothing stopping property owners from installing their own barriers such as trees, large boulders or guardrails on their property.
“You have a lot of ideas that will mitigate the risk (to property),” McMullen said, verifying that property owners or the township may erect barriers as long as they are not on the bridge or in the clear zone. She asked if someone from the county engineer’s office would be willing to meet with trustees and residents to go over options.
“There are a lot of design features out there. Maybe the township trustees are not familiar with them,” McMullen said. “We want to work with the engineer to make the bridge area safer.”
Hajjab said the options available are more esthetic than engineering-oriented, but may provide a level of perceived safety. Unofficially, he said a cooperative effort by the three parties to find a solution is possible as long as it doesn’t involve the bridge project itself. He recommended McMullen contact county Engineer Joe Cattel to set up a meeting.
He also explained how the temporary dam, which will be put in place while the wooden bridge is replaced with a concrete box structure, will operate to avoid flooding nearby properties.
The new bridge will be lower and wider than the old one, Hajjab said, and won’t have center piers on which debris often catches and causes flooding upstream.
On March 13 Voss took his concerns to the Geauga County Commissioners and County Engineer Joe Cattell, who agreed to attend a special meeting on the subject of Munson trustees at 6:30 p.m. March 26.
During Thursday’s meeting, Cattell told commissioners the original plans were drawn up after Munson Trustee Andy Bushman assured his department that Voss had been contacted and understood the project. Cattell also saida representative from his department had met with Voss a few weeks ago and redesigned parts of the project to address some of Voss’s complaints including the wing walls and the embankment. The guardrail is the main point of contention, Cattell said, and his department is firm on that, but Voss or the trustees may make other arrangements.
“I’m done with the project,” he said. “If you want to put a guardrail back up, I won’t rip it out.”
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