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South Hill Road closure being considered

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If the city decides to close South Hill Road to through traffic, the gate would be placed at the boundary between residential and industrial areas. At that spot, the road narrows while going up the hill. Interim City Manager Frank Sweet said the gate would be placed where the speed limit sign is currently located.

A public hearing regarding a temporary road closure on South Hill Road was held last night during the Sunnyside City Council meeting and the feedback from residents living along the road indicated overwhelming support for the closure.

The road closure would involve placing a gate along South Hill Road at the boundary between the residential and industrial areas. Councilman Nick Paulakis explained that the closure would be part of Operation Cul-de-sac, an effort by police to limit outlets that results in less crime.

Seven residents of the street, including Paulakis, spoke at the hearing. All present were in favor of the closure.

Gabriel Darbyson spoke first about how traffic increased after the construction upgrade on First Street. He summarized a letter he had written to the council about the issue.

"The traffic has just gotten atrocious," he said. "My wife and I used to do casual strolls around the block, it just can't happen anymore."

While supporting the road closure, he also had other suggestions, such as widening the road and adding sidewalks or putting in speed bumps.

"If it will cut down on crime, close the road," said Kathy Tramel, another resident of the street. "I am one of those people to be inconvenienced because I'm at the very end where those barriers will be. No problem. Close the road."

Dale Miller, another resident, brought a petition in favor of closing the road from a number of residents of the road.

Mike Heitstuman, a resident of Saul Road just around the corner from South Hill Road, listed crime statistics for his house and the home across the street from his home. The list was long.

Sunnyside Police Sgt. John Chumley presented information about the history of the road and why the crime rate had increased. He had a map of the area and showed how the flow of traffic had been accidentally routed through South Hill Road during the First Street construction project and now was a nuisance not just for the people along South Hill Road, but also for people living in the neighborhoods to the east of the new shortcut.

He explained that people can now go through all the neighborhoods from First Street to 16th Street without hitting a major intersection, which makes it very difficult for police to intercept criminals and increases non-residential traffic in the areas.

Heitstuman spoke again to point out that the city had counted traffic along the street. On the lowest day about 1,600 vehicles went through the neighborhood. The day with the most traffic had about 3,100 vehicles.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock asked if the Sunnnyside Fire Department would have the ability to open the gate. Fire Chief Aaron Markham said that had been considered.

Councilman Jason Raines asked if the closure would affect the industrial operations in the area. Sgt. Chumley explained that the closure would be between the industrial area and the residential area.

Raines also asked if school buses, moving vans or big rigs that made a wrong turn could turn around if needed. Public Works Superintendent Shane Fisher said he'd checked with the school district about buses, and they thought it would be fine. He'd also asked about garbage trucks.

The council decided to wait until its next meeting on Monday, July 23, to take formal action on whether of not to approve the road closure.

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