Stark County is wrapping up buying properties and arranging access for construction vehicles for the expansion slated to start next year.

As Belden Village continues to grow, traffic through one of Stark County's busiest intersections frequently becomes congested.

The lack of a right-turn lane for those going west on Everhard Road NW and turning right to go north on Whipple Avenue creates congestion when vehicles trying to get onto Interstate 77 get in the left lane before the intersection and abruptly cut into the right lane after the intersection for the highway entrance.

Then cars — using the Interstate 77 North exit ramp intended for traffic to right to go east on Everhard — often try to zip across busy lanes of traffic to make a left turn onto Everhard, further blocking traffic. Vehicles going south on Whipple making left turns to get to local businesses have no turn lane so they block up the traffic behind them. And the sole left turn lane from northbound on Whipple to westbound on Everhard frequently has a long line of cars.

A fix is coming.

It will cost $7 million. And it will mean major road and lane closures, the replacement of two bridges and major inconveniences from March until the fall of 2019.

The Stark County Engineer's Office is wrapping up its acquisition of land, so it can expand the intersection and add turn lanes as well as a barricade to prevent vehicles exiting at the I-77 ramp from moving into the left lanes and forcing them to turn right and go east on Everhard. Whipple and Everhard are both Stark County roads. The area to the east of Whipple is in Plain Township, and the area to the west is in Jackson Township.

 

Worth it?

Dave Torrence, the Stark County Engineer's chief deputy engineer, said it'll be worth it in the end.

Motorists are "going to get a safer intersection. They're going to get an intersection that they're going to be able to get through in a more efficient manner with less congestion and one that serves the traveling public for a good 20 to 30 years in the future," he said.

"There is an awful lot of economic development that has occurred right there the (12 to 18 months)," said Stark County Administrator Brant Luther, who referred to the opening of the Venue shopping plaza and the construction of two new hotels. "Hopefully when it's complete, it'll be much more efficient as people conduct commerce in that area."

Torrence said last week his office, on behalf of the Stark County commissioners, had purchased pieces of about 19 of 25 parcels necessary for the project. That adds up to roughly half an acre of right of way in addition to about 1.5 acres of easement.

He expects the county will pay about $660,000 to acquire or use the properties due to high cost of land in the Belden Village area near a highway exit. By law, the county has to pay fair market prices. But it can force the sale of the properties through eminent domain, which it's done for four properties.

Torrence said DeVille Development, which owns the Venue shopping plaza through its entity 3939 Everhard LLC, asked for the county to initiate appropriation proceedings on two of its parcels rather than negotiate a sale.

Traffic consultants estimated that an average of about 21,200 vehicles a day as of 2013 went through the intersection on Whipple while 20,400 vehicles went through the intersection on Everhard as of 2016. The numbers are from the Stark County Area Transportation Study traffic count database.

"This one's kind of a no-brainer," Torrence said about the project. "It has to be done."

Steep cost

The cost is expected to be steep because the hours contractors can work on the project are limited due to the high volume of traffic. In addition, the project will require a lot of materials.

Torrence said planning for the project began in 2013. The Engineer's Office was able to obtain $700,000 in federal grant funding from the Stark County Area Transportation Study to cover the cost of design work over more than two years by ME Companies, now IBI Group.

The county eventually obtained $5.2 million in federal funding from SCATS, $1 million from the County Engineers Association of Ohio and $1.5 million in Ohio Public Works Commission grants over a two-year period, said Torrence. The engineer's office held a public meeting on the proposed work for residents and businesses in November 2015 in the Stark State College building on Whipple.

The county hired an appraiser to begin valuing the properties the county would need to buy for the work. The total cost of acquiring property is $1 million, including the cost of consultants. The county will have to reimburse AT&T to relocate the phone company's utility box at Whipple and Independence Circle NW.

Torrence said utility companies such as AEP, AT&T, North Canton water, Dominion East Ohio and Spectrum are also moving their utility lines in preparation of the digging. But many local AEP utility workers have gone to Texas and Florida to help restore power lost due to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. That will delay the move of power lines for the project until winter, but isn't expected to hold up the start date, Torrence said.

Torrence said North Canton is also contributing money to the project because it and the county will work together to replace the city's water lines along Whipple. The county will also pave Everhard all the way east to South Main Street at a cost of about $500,000, with some reimbursement by North Canton.

He said the massive project is separate from another $2 million project to resurface Whipple Avenue from Belden Village Street NW south to Tuscarawas Street W. That project would start next year and be done mainly at night.

Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com. Twitter: @rwangREP.