ASHLAND — Both sides of a nearly six-mile section along State Route 545 in Ashland County will get an eight-foot-wide buggy lane using $5 million from an Ohio Department of Transportation grant.
ODOT District 3, which includes Ashland County, received the maximum amount available for roadway departure projects in the state’s latest round of funding.
Gov. Mike DeWine and ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks announced May 5 a total of $51 million for traffic safety improvement projects across the state.
The money will go toward 44 roadway safety projects in 32 counties.
ODOT data points to an increase in fatal crashes involving pedestrians in recent years, reaching the highest levels in 2021 when compared to the previous decade.
In 2021, 703 people were killed and 3,390 people were seriously hurt in roadway departure crashes, according to ODOT data. Of those who died, 176 were pedestrians, accounting for 13% of all traffic deaths in Ohio.
“This is a serious problem, and we certainly believe that distracted driving is contributing to this alarming increase in pedestrian-involved and roadway departure crashes,” said DeWine in a prepared statement.
The governor added the money will help make changes on the road, but more is needed.
“A cultural changes around distracted driving is needed as well. I continue to encourage members of the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation to put more restrictions around mobile device usage while driving to make it clear that distracted driving won’t be tolerated in Ohio,” he said.
The need for a buggy lane was identified through an ODOT Statewide Amish Travel Study, which found that there was a total of 723 buggy crashes between 2009 and 2019.
There were 17 fatalities and 132 incapacitating injuries during that period of time, the study found.
The study included travel data within known Amish-traveled areas using input from ODOT district staff throughout the state and county administrators. It also included public involvement with a survey that garnered 1,275 responses from 27 counties.
The top 10 most Amish-traveled state routes are located in Wayne and Holmes counties, the study found.
ODOT hosted 18 community meetings within Amish communities, attracting 505 participants, according to an ODOT document that outlines background for the study.
Construction on the buggy lanes is expected to begin in spring of 2025, said Crystal Neelon, an ODOT spokeswoman. She said the current plan involves maintaining traffic on the road.
“However, this has not been finalized and will not be determined until the final plans are completed,” she said in an email.
The buggy lanes will be built on State Route 545 between State Route 96 to the southern corporation limit of the Village of Savannah, a 5.73-mile stretch. ODOT’s study placed an “elevated” priority on that stretch of road.