Resident funds second traffic study

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | 6:56 p.m. CDT; updated 8:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — Eric Seaman is adamant that the city get complete information before approving a long-term acute-care hospital that would be built near his home — so adamant that he is paying a couple thousand dollars of his own money to fund a second traffic study.

“We don’t think that planning and zoning is looking at things as thoroughly as we wanted them to, so that is where we are at,” Seaman said.

Landmark Hospitals applied to have the zoning of the proposed site changed to planned office zoning from residential one-family homes to accommodate a 42-bed facility that would serve patients who need long-term care. In March, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 to recommend that the City Council approve the rezoning and voted 6-2 that the council approve the hospital’s development plan.

If the hospital is built, its driveway would be about 130 feet from Seaman’s driveway, he said. His house is the only house that faces Alfred Street in the neighborhood.

Planning and Zoning director Tim Teddy said in Columbia, it is uncommon for individuals to fund their own traffic studies.

“There haven’t been many cases that I can recall in which a citizen group, whether it be a neighboring property owner or an interested third party, hires their own consultant,” Teddy said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said “it doesn’t happen very often” that an individual or a neighborhood association does their own traffic study because of the cost. Hoppe said she thinks the situation shows there is a lot of concern about the issue and a lot of things at stake.

“Sometimes the people that pay for the study can skew how the study is done,” Hoppe said. “I think it is totally appropriate if the neighbors want a study done and want to pay for it.”

The City Council was scheduled to vote on the issue on April 21, but the matter was tabled, pending the results of Seaman’s study.

Seaman is specifically worried that the long-term acute-care hospital will generate a heavy amount of traffic and that a proposed driveway exit onto Alfred Street will present a safety problem because cars exiting will need to yield to cars traveling along the road in both directions.

Thinking the initial traffic assessment done for the site did not address his concerns, Seaman sent a letter to Planning and Zoning on March 18, asking that potential traffic issues be taken into consideration. In late March, he decided to fund his own study.

His traffic study was started by Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier Traffic and Transportation Engineers on April 11. The engineers have been using survey and measuring equipment, viewing accident reports for Alfred Street and counting traffic at the intersection of Old 63 and Alfred Street.

Seaman wouldn’t give an exact cost of the study but said it would cost “a couple thousand dollars.”

Country Club Estates resident Bob Hutton has been acting as the spokesperson for the neighborhood association about the hospital issue. Hutton said the neighborhood is not against the hospital coming to Columbia but said there would be other locations that would be more suitable for it from their perspective.

“We are very supportive of Eric,” Hutton said. “We think that he is doing the right thing. We questioned the original traffic study because we did not think that it was accurate. We did not understand how a hospital would supply less traffic than a residential area.”

Landmark Hospital attorney Skip Walther said the original traffic evaluation revealed that the facility would not generate any more peak hour trips than an equivalent residential development. Most employees would need to be at the facility by 7 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m., which means that employees would be at work during morning and afternoon peak traffic hours, Walther said.

“We have a high degree of confidence in the city staff’s ability to come to the right conclusions,” Walther said.

Richard Stone, traffic engineer with the engineering division of public works, analyzed the results from the initial traffic assessment and made recommendations to Planning and Zoning and to the council. He said that because of industry standards, another study would probably have similar results to the initial study.

“Even if you doubled the numbers, it would be pretty minimal,” Stone said.

The results of the study Seaman commissioned will be presented at the City Council meeting on May 5. The council is then expected to decide on the rezoning request.

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