Amish Buggy Lanes, School Zones Funded for ’21, ’22
October 1, 2020 by Ann Wishart

When the Ohio Department of Transportation launches its $11.8-million Geauga County safety initiative in 2021 and 2022, a substantial part will be spent on buggy lanes north and east of Middlefield Village.

When the Ohio Department of Transportation launches its $11.8-million Geauga County safety initiative in 2021 and 2022, a substantial part will be spent on buggy lanes north and east of Middlefield Village.

Buggy lanes will be built along state Route 608 north of Middlefield Village starting at Nauvoo Road and ending 2,500 feet north of Burton Windsor Road, said Brent Kovacs, public information officer for ODOT in a phone interview last week.

The project calls for extending the lanes over the hill to the north of Burton Windsor Road, making the area much safer for slower-moving traffic.

There will also be 8-foot-wide lanes paved on either side of Kinsman Road from Hayes Road to the Trumbull County line, said Geauga County Deputy Engineer Shane Hajjar over the phone Sept. 21. Buggy lanes already exist along Kinsman Road in Trumbull County.

The lanes and other smaller projects are scheduled to go out for bid by mid-October, with work to begin in the spring of 2021 and be completed in two years, he said.

To accommodate Amish foot and scooter traffic, 4-foot-wide paved shoulders will be added to state Route 168 between Newcomb and Shed roads and on Mumford Road from Patch Road to Route 168, Hajjar said.

Newcomb is scheduled to be reconstructed and repaved during the process, he said.

“These are not designed as buggy lanes,” he said, adding they will be too narrow.

Geauga County has many schools for Amish children and the study pointed out the school zones don’t have proper signs requiring drivers to slow to 20 mph at the beginning and end of the school day.

“They weren’t comparable to public schools’ (signage),” Hajjar said, adding the signals planned for the Amish school zones will be equipped with flashing lights, as well.

The roadwork is being put out to bid this year, will commence in the spring and be complete by the end of 2022, he said.

There are 11 different projects wrapped into the initiative, including state and local roads, said Geauga County Engineer Joe Cattell.

The entire package originally stemmed from residents concerned about Amish neighborhoods where motor vehicles can endanger children walking to school and Amish horse-drawn buggies.

“A few years ago, the county partnered with ODOT on a safety study in the Amish areas,” Cattell said.

The group sought input from the Amish and held public meetings on the topic, then developed a strategic plan.

“But it didn’t come with any money,” Cattell added.

Then the U.S. Department of Transportation created a discretionary grant program called Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Developments with about $7.9 billion in funds for 11 rounds of infrastructure improvements, according to the USDOT website.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency used the study to apply for a BUILD grant, providing about 20% of the total that would eventually be about $15 million, Cattell said.

He credited U.S. Congressman Dave Joyce with getting the multi-faceted program funded.

“Dave Joyce made a big difference in getting us the money,” he said.

The majority of Amish homes, schools and businesses are in Middlefield Township, although, as the population has grown, buggies can be seen all over eastern Geauga County.

Middlefield Township Trustee Bob Troyer was part of the group who helped with the study and applauds the plan.

“It’s critical,” he said, adding he’d like to see buggy lanes south of the village center on Route 608, as well.

Troyer owns Troyer Farms on Route 608 north of the village, where the new lanes will be built. Although he will receive “a token amount” for the land the state will take off his property for the lane, he said the project is necessary.

“The Amish are not going anywhere. They’re a vital part of our community. And they never ask for anything,” Troyer said.

Noah Wengerd, an Amish safety committee member, said those driving buggies in his community want to avoid motor vehicles whenever possible and many will pull their buggies off to the side of the road when traffic piles up behind them.

“If we can get out of the way, even for a couple of hundred feet, that’s very good for us,” he said.

During discussions among the Amish, one of the first questions asked is why the buggy lanes don’t extend into the village. Wengerd explained it would be very expensive to do.

In addition, there is a network of buggy paths through the village, he said. They include the recently completed bike path and an old railroad bed that provide safe access to businesses in the village.

Wengerd commended the collaboration between the Amish and the various agencies that made the initiative possible.

“It’s nice for us to communicate with you people. We do not want to lose that,” he said. “(The project) is going to benefit our Amish.”

Middlefield Village Mayor Ben Garlich also praised ODOT for improving safety for the Amish community. He was on the committee that got the ball rolling in 2016 and said in an email the speed with which the package has come together is great, particularly the buggy lanes north of the village.

“I thought, with the involvement of multiple property owners and various governmental agencies, the project would be in discussion for years,” he wrote. “In this situation, I love being proved wrong.”

Buggy lanes in the village are unnecessary because there are three lanes on most of the main roads, so cars can safely pass slow-moving vehicles, he said, adding limited visibility is not a problem in the village.

“With sidewalks and some narrow tree lawns, adding buggy lanes would cause more expense and unhappy residents than the benefit of the lanes would provide,” Garlich said.  “This project is being done solely to provide improved safety for all individuals visiting our village … regardless of their mode of transportation.”