By Carol Bradley
After nearly a year of research, including traffic counts and engineering studies, 100 meetings with key stakeholders and unanimous approval from the St. Joseph County Council and St. Joseph County Commissioners, construction has begun on a project to re-route Douglas Road north of its current location between Juniper and State Road 933.
Why was this project a priority? There were a number of goals the University had in mind, says Tim Sexton, associate vice president for state and local public affairs. “The project will improve safety and consolidate 120 acres of University-owned property for future development.”
Create an attractive and safe northwest entrance to campus “The east side of SR 933 at the Toll Road exit, property owned by the University, is not attractive,” Sexton says. The exit also is something of a traffic hazard. The exit is a short distance north of the current Douglas Road, and vehicles exiting the Toll Road to the south or entering to the west must cross several lanes of traffic, often heavy, within a short distance, at Douglas. In the new plan, a four-lane Douglas Road, with a 40 mph speed limit, will travel through White Field to connect to 933 at the Toll Road entrance. Two roundabouts will be added, one near the current Douglas-Juniper intersection and another further northwest. The existing traffic light at the north entrance to Saint Mary’s College (Bro. Andre Drive and 933) will be retained, Sexton says. “The traffic warrants it.”
Address safety issues There’s a considerable amount of campus pedestrian and vehicle traffic crossing Douglas at Juniper Road from St. Michael’s Laundry, Mason Services Center, Landscape Services and the Food Services Support Facility. “This will improve safety for those employees,” says Sexton, “by greatly reducing the volume of traffic traveling west of this intersection.” Safety concerns about the new four-lane road raised by residents of University Village and Roseland’s Indian Village have been addressed by adding to the plan two HAWK (high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon) systems, one at the entrance to University Village and another near the planned roundabout near the existing Juniper-Douglas Road intersection. HAWK is a traffic signal that stops all road traffic to allow pedestrians to cross safely. The system is activated only when a pedestrian or bicyclist pushes a button to activate it or their presence is triggered by sensors and includes countdown “walk” and “don’t walk” signals. White Field will still be used for game day parking, but the project should improve traffic flow and make it much easier to get on and off campus.
Develop a connected system of biking and walking trails The road relocation project, Sexton says, affords the opportunity to connect to existing biking/walking paths, creating a 10-foot-wide trail around the northern perimeter of the University. The path will also connect to additional campus exercise trails and the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail. “The pedestrian exercise trails are going to be a fantastic benefit to Notre Dame and the community,” Sexton says. Best of all, these bike trails are separated from the vehicular travel lanes of the road. North of campus, St. Joseph County will add a six-foot-wide asphalt path on both sides of Juniper Road for bike and pedestrian safety; south of the viaduct, the University will extend bike lanes north to Pendle Road.
Improve Douglas Road’s traffic flow St. Joseph County has a long-term plan to develop Douglas—the only through street to the University Park Mall area between Edison Road to the South and Cleveland Road to the north—into a major east-west corridor. “This project will make the road four lanes in this section, accomplishing a major section in the county’s long-term transportation plan,” says Sexton. The University has asked the county to widen Douglas to four lanes between Ironwood and Twyckenham. Those discussions are still under way. An additional advantage is that when the project is completed, 120 acres of land contiguous to campus will be available for future development, “without a public road through the middle,” adds Sexton.
What’s the timeline? Work such as soil testing is already being done. Construction will begin early in 2013, and the new road is anticipated to be complete by mid to late August, in time for the first football game. As far as the impact on campus traffic in the meantime, Sexton adds that Juniper Road will be closed only for a few days, in late summer. The existing Douglas Road will be in use until the new road is completed, after which the current Douglas Road will be closed to complete construction.