Columbus’ Rocky Ford Road project, a multi-year street improvement project, is nearing the finish line.

The final phase of construction is underway, said Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer. That phase will involve significant changes to the way motorists and bicyclists navigate the road in the future, he said.

Prior to the improvements, Rocky Ford was described as a 20-foot-wide, two-lane country road.

Construction work on the section of Rocky Ford between Taylor and Talley roads has been ongoing since February 2016, providing three traffic lanes, bicycle lanes, curbs and concrete sidewalks.

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It represents the fourth phase of improving Rocky Ford between Central Avenue and Talley, a process that began in 1994 under the administration of Mayor Robert Stewart, a time when the city had forecast more growth to its east and north sides, Hayward said.

However, even as the city widened Rocky Ford to four traffic lanes plus turn lanes at all the major intersections between Central Avenue and Taylor Road, the increased traffic and development did not materialize, Hayward said. Right now, traffic counts are 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles per day, causing the city to rethink the need for all four lanes and consider how to better serve bicyclists and pedestrians in the area, he said.

“Studies have shown the extra traffic lanes encourage problem behaviors such as speeding and excessive lane changing,” Hayward said. City officials believe that reducing the number of lanes on the stretch from Central to Talley could decrease the number of accidents by 25 to 30 percent.

In 2011, the city revised the Rocky Ford Road design, with construction in progress to provide two traffic lanes plus a continuous left-turn lane, and 5-foot wide bicycle lanes next to the curbs on each side.

“We see more bicycle use in this area every year,” Hayward said of Rocky Ford’s use by the residential neighborhoods to the north and south. “And we aren’t just seeing individual bicyclists. We are seeing families out on bicycles.”

To create uniform pavement markings along Rocky Ford from Central to Talley, Hayward said the road will be re-striped to provide two traffic lanes plus left-turn lanes at major intersections. The remaining pavement is being converted to buffered bike lanes, meaning a striped area will separate the bike lanes from the vehicle lanes.

The bicycle lanes along Rocky Ford will connect to the Haw Creek Trail near Marr Road as well as planned bicycle and pedestrian paths along Taylor and Talley roads.

The design will be similar to buffered bicycle lanes along Home Avenue between 25th and 27th Street and along Taylor Road between U.S. 31 and South Drive that were completed in 2016.

In addition to the Rocky Ford re-striping, city officials plan to reconfigure Marr Road between Rocky Ford and Sawin Drive to install buffered bicycle lanes in each direction, going from two lanes of traffic in each direction to one lane and a bike lane.

All of the work is expected to be completed by the end of 2017, something that local Presidential Park resident Jean Glick said can’t come soon enough.

The final phase of the Rocky Ford project is directly in front of Presidential Park’s normal entryway, and residents have been unable to access their homes from Rocky Ford for months, she said. The entryway has been completed, but workers have dumped a huge load of sand in the entryway to keep drivers from using it, she said.

Instead, drivers must detour on to Marr Road to Sawin Drive, where they enter the back part of the residential area, and wind their way into Presidential Park, a circuitous route that is getting tiring to follow, she said.

“My only question is, ‘Why don’t we see any work getting done,’ “ she said.

Residents had been told by their homeowner association that the entryway would reopen in late summer, but that hasn’t happened and they are getting frustrated, she said.

Hayward said the project contractor, Milestone, is continuing to work with residents on access, and the contract calls for the work to be done by the end of this year.

In addition to the road work, a new, reinforced concrete bridge also is part of the Rocky Ford project. The Sloan Branch Bridge is being constructed over the existing bridge along with a new storm drainage system.

The entire Rocky Ford project that is nearly completed, including the bridge, is estimated at $8.5 million, with federal funding picking up the majority of the cost. The city is investing $1.7 million as its share of the project.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.