Butler Street discussions helping pave way for improvements

Photo by Janelle Patterson Marietta Middle School student Lydia Hall, left, and her mother Franci Bolden cross four lanes of traffic on Second Street at the Butler Street intersection Wednesday.

MARIETTA — How to make walking between districts in the Marietta community friendlier is the next focus of Butler Street discussions.

Enrich Marietta, a partnership between city planning officials, downtown businesses and higher education is using the insights of the traffic study surrounding Butler Street and extend that analysis between the Marietta College campus and downtown businesses, said Marietta Main Street Director Sam Tuten.

“I think we now can move the discussion to include not only the college, but how do we make all of Butler Street and even that corridor down (the Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge) into Harmar more inviting, better lit and safer for both college students and elementary kids,” said Tuten. “This discussion can happen more with Enrich Marietta as we plan those corridors and the infrastructure projects and improvements people want to see not just in the downtown or on campus.”

Marietta College previously introduced the idea of a street vacation by the city to the college of the block of Butler Street between Seventh and Fourth streets last fall.

The idea became divisive between residents, college representatives and public officials before and after the completion of a comprehensive engineering traffic study of all intersections and roads between Seventh, Third, Putnam and Greene streets.

File Photo In this Feb. 13 file photo, Ed Williams, of TEC Engineering, explains to Marietta City Council and administration the findings of a traffic impact study answering the questions of what would happen to the city streets surrounding Marietta College if Butler Street between Seventh and Fourth streets was vacated to the college and what improvements to surrounding streets are required regardless of if the road is vacated or not.

The study revealed needed safety improvements for pedestrian crossings, light timing, lane painting and street repairs within the whole area — including a potential introduction of a right-turn only lane onto the Williamstown Bridge from Greene Street.

City Engineer Joe Tucker is now taking those recommendations into account as he plans street projects and their funding packages over the next five years for the city.

Ultimately council has paused until further notice any discussions of closure and/or vacation of the Butler block running through campus.

But conversations of how to increase safety and walkability have now shifted from that option to how to integrate traffic calming measures between campus and downtown.

Southeastern Ohio Port Authority Director Andy Kuhn said his board has discussed the Butler Street issue at length, though noted that Marietta College President Bill Ruud, who is a board member, recused himself from those discussions.

“We are supporting data-driven decision-making on the issue, and we support development efforts on the campus,” said Kuhn Thursday. “I think Enrich Marietta is an opportunity to discuss further development and hopefully OHM will assist us with a better roadmap to find financing.”

One idea for traffic calming along Butler and the downtown business district was voiced to Councilman Geoff Schenkel Wednesday–erecting a roundabout at the Second and Butler streets’ intersection which could also serve as a pedestrian refuge in the four-lane by five-lane intersection and be a space for directional signage to different areas of town.

“I don’t think that’s off the table,” said Schenkel. “It is an intersection with four natural cardinal points and allows change to start in a more neutral area where we intersect between different interests.”

Tuten also encouraged the continued responses to the community-wide survey available both online and in print form for all Marietta residents, business owners, visitors and other interested parties.

“So far we have about 475 online responses and 75 hard copies I need to input,” he said. “Then the next steps after the survey closes at the end of March will be to analyze the results and prioritize projects.”

The survey was developed out of the downtown steering committee which has worked with OHM Advisors for the past six months in developing the next community-wide plan for economic development after Marietta City Council authorized an initial investment in the planning process of $10,000 in federal funds.

Interested parties may pick up and complete the survey in hard copy form and drop it off at City Hall or to Marietta Main Street’s office in the Ketter Block building, 204 Front St.

The survey is also available online at EnrichMarietta.com.