Downtown traffic issue should take priority over I-70 study

This column refers to the Feb. 13-15, 2016, article in the Daily Reporter, “Exit Strategy.” I applaud county officials for their efforts to look at possible future new interchanges along Interstate 70. I also have questions about the long-range view of these same county officials.

According to the article, county officials are looking at a new interchange to accommodate and encourage future growth of business. They will do this by conducting a study to look at current traffic patterns, population and business development throughout the county. This is a worthy effort, and I hope county officials find information they can use to determine if there is a need for a new interchange.

The article goes on to state a 2005 comprehensive plan has already identified county roads 200W and 600E as possible sites for a new interchange. The study will look at these sites and possible others in the county. Again, very worthy goals.

This is where I diverge in agreement with county officials. The next paragraph states the current interchanges “are sufficient to handle present day traffic,” but this might not hold true with future population increases. I have to question this conclusion.

While the recent changes to the interchanges at State Road 9 and Mount Comfort Road have eased congestion at these locations, my experience is that these are still difficult places to negotiate traffic at high-traffic times.

Further, county officials need to look at the congestion caused by traffic in and around Greenfield. New interchanges could divert this traffic from State Road 9 in Greenfield. Of State Road 9 and U.S. 40, State Road 9 carries the clear majority of traffic.

Further, Bill Bolander, president of the Hancock County Council, states, “We’ve got to be looking ahead. We don’t want to wait until everything’s built … before considering it. By then, it’d be too late.” Mr. Bolander, it is now too late or will soon be too late.

County Commissioner Tom Stevens says it will take 15 to 30 years to complete the project. I believe the city of Greenfield, especially in the center of the city, around the intersection of Main and State streets, U.S. 40 and State Road 9, will not survive if city, county and state officials wait that long. And others have similar views.

A recent study commissioned by the Main Street committee made it clear the damage that is already happening to downtown buildings from heavy truck traffic allowed to move along State Road 9 and U.S. 40. Many of these buildings are important for their history and for their cultural significance to the city of Greenfield.

These two factors are very important to the future of downtown development. Of special concern at this intersection is the threat to the Creative Arts and Event Center, the former Masonic building. Southbound trucks, turning right from State Road 9 to U.S. 40, often go up on the sidewalk, sometimes quite close to the building.

So far, the expertise of the truck drivers has avoided a disaster. It will only take one tired, inexperienced or drug/alcohol-affected driver to cause damage to that building.

And heavy truck traffic is not just a traffic congestion problem. It also affects the quality of life of those who choose to live and work in downtown Greenfield.

I have spoken to people who work near that intersection who talk about the noise being a distraction to their work. And any vibrant downtown is characterized by its street-level activity. I cannot imagine too many people wanting to visit downtown with the amount of noise and fumes encountered at this intersection.

Traffic problems from State Road 9 being heavily used are not limited to the city. In the early years we lived in the county, we lived on County Road 400N just west of State Road 9. Any time of day, during high traffic times, it was nearly impossible to turn north from 400N to State Road 9.

I am assuming the reason for the light at Davis Road and State Road 9 is also due to heavy traffic use. There is also significant congestion at state roads 9 and 234 during high traffic periods.

Not long ago, I wrote a column regarding the problems of heavy traffic in downtown Greenfield. In time, I have to believe the addition of a new interchange will have to help with this. But it has to be delivered more quickly than “15 to 30 years.” Greenfield’s downtown will not survive that long as a viable entity.

Jim Matthews is a longtime resident of Greenfield. He can be reached at