Pandemic cut traffic, crashes in Route 8 construction zone
ODOT estimates 42% decrease in vehicles on highways
COVID-19 has caused a great deal of inconvenience, to say the least, but one thing that could be considered a silver lining is fewer traffic crashes, including in the Route 8 construction zone in northern Summit County.
“With COVID-19, traffic was completely changed,” said Hudson Police Chief Perry Tabak. “I’m sure that has a direct correlation on the number of crashes because people weren’t going to work. We didn’t have as many crashes on Route 8.”
According to Stow police crash reports, from late March, after the state issued the stay-at-home order, to the end of June, there were 19 crashes within Stow’s portion of the zone, from Graham Road north to Seasons Road. That’s down from 37 crashes within the same time period last year.
In Hudson’s stretch between Seasons Road and Route 303, there were four crashes during the same time period, versus 12 crashes last year.
Ray Marsch, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 4 office in Akron, said a traffic count in 2019 indicated that an average of 56,000 vehicles traveled Route 8 daily on the same stretch of highway. He said a traffic count was not done this year, but he said ODOT estimates traffic dropped 42% statewide after the state shut down in March.
The $58.6-million reconstruction of Route 8 covers a distance of about about 6 miles, more than half of that in Stow. The project began in September 2018 and is scheduled to conclude in July 2022.
This year, the two open lanes on the northbound side have concrete barriers on both sides, basically creating closed corridors for vehicles to travel. The barriers will switch to the southbound side next year.
Local safety forces say the barriers have created some complications when responding to crashes on the northbound side, but they have found ways to cope.
“It’s a little trickier,” said Tabak. “Sometimes it’s not a straight route, but we’ve been able to get to the crashes.”
Stow Police Lt. Mike Titus, who works the department’s afternoon shift which sees more than its share of crashes, said there are access points between the northbound and southbound sides and between lanes on the northbound side as well as a lane on the northbound side reserved for construction vehicle use.
“We have been able to get to accidents faster by accessing that,” he said.
He said ODOT traffic cameras have also been helpful in allowing safety forces to often see a scene in advance. For example, when responding to a disabled vehicle on Route 8 northbound near Seasons Road in June, police were able to see that because of the barriers, they would have to get onto the highway at Route 303, rather than at Seasons.
“We have the ability to better respond knowing exactly where the issue is,” said Titus.
Titus said Cuyahoga Falls police have also been helpful when there are incidents on the northbound side by shutting down the impacted lane south of Graham to reduce backup.
Tabak said that in Hudson, in addition to access points in the barriers, there is also a gated opening at Sullivan Road on the northbound side, where ODOT construction vehicles are stored, that safety forces can also use to get to emergencies.
Tabak said Hudson, Stow and the Valley Fire District are are also working together to help each other through “auto-aid agreements.”
“The agencies around here that are having to handle the accidents in the construction zone, we’re all working together so if one of us has a problem getting there, we have agreements and we’ve worked out strategies to assist each other,” he said, adding, “The ultimate goal is to make sure that regardless of who gets there, somebody gets there to help the people who need assistance and to get to anybody who’s injured and to get the cars out of the lanes so we can get traffic flowing again.”
Tabak and Titus said assured clear distance ahead incidents, where one vehicle runs into the back of another, is the leading cause of crashes. Titus said the rule of thumb for drivers is to allow one car length per 10 mph.
“If people maintained a greater distance, that would certainly reduce the chances of running into the back of someone,” he said, adding “people are not able to pass, some people are not as patient as others.”
Tabak said the construction increases the risks.
“Obviously with this type of construction project, you’re going to have changes to those traffic patterns periodically and that’s why it’s even more important to leave a lot of room and not ride too close to people because you might be used to the traffic pattern being one way one week and a week later, they change,” he said.
Titus said he believes that once the project is completed, motorists and safety forces will all be better off.
“It should be a much safer road once it’s completed and much nicer traveling for people,” he said.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at email@example.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.