The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 8, 2014

Bridge detour could put residents’ safety at risk

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Staff Writer

NORTH KINGSVILLE — Detours that will result while a Route 20 bridge linking Conneaut and North Kingsville is replaced could put residents’ safety at risk, officials said at a meeting Monday afternoon.

A community meeting to discuss the impacts of the bridge work attracted more than 20 people, including local, county and state officials.

At issue is the replacement of a bridge bisected by the Conneaut-North Kingsville line. Contracts for the project will be sold toward the end of the year, and construction could commence a short time later, Justin Chesnic, Ohio Department of Transportation District 4 spokesman, said Monday.

The work could take many months to complete, partly because of the complexity of the project and the need to work around Norfolk Southern railroad tracks below the bridge, officials have said. Projections range from six months to more than a year.

Side streets will serve as detours for most traffic, while commercial vehicles will be funneled onto state highways. Those detours could increase response time for police, fire and emergency medical personnel, some residents fear. Ambulances that normally take North Kingsville patients to UH Conneaut Medical Center because of its close proximity may be obliged to use another facility to cut travel time, officials said.

“As a village, our concern is safety,” said North Kingsville Mayor Terry McConnell. "We need to know what’s our best avenue Construction isn’t supposed to begin until 2015, so we have time to plead our case.”

Greg Sweet, owner of a auto dealership on Route 20 less than two miles west of the bridge, said he is “very concerned” about the project and the detours.

“If there’s a fire at my business, it could mean the difference between a structure that is saved and a structure that must be torn down,” he said. “If someone has a heart attack, it could be a matter of life and death.”

There’s a financial consideration, too, Sweet said. Sixty percent of his trade comes from “drive-by traffic,” and that will be lost during the construction shutdown, he said.

“What about the businesses that pay taxes?” Sweet said. “I will be absolutely decimated. I will have to close my business.”

Options to maintain through traffic on Route 20 while work is under way were discussed, but odds they would be accepted are slim, the crowd was told. Replacing the four-lane bridge a few lanes at a time, keeping the others open, would be very difficult because of the design of the old bridge.

Some people suggested restoring temporarily a railroad crossing that once existed on Industry Drive just inside the North Kingsville line. That crossing closed many years ago, and land that held that portion of the road and crossing is now in private hands, the audience was told.

Creating a temporary crossing also would require the cooperation of the railroad and navigating plenty of government regulations, a process that is not easy — or quick.

“To get a crossing back (in Industry Drive) would be nearly impossible,” said Ashtabula County Commis-sioner Dan Claypool.

Commissioner Joe Moro-ski agreed.

“It gets tough when you have to rely on the cooperation of the railroad,” he said. “They’re trying to reduce the number of crossings.”

State Rep. John Patterson said he will confer with ODOT officials on the matter and try to arrange a public meeting where concerns can be raised with state railroad and highway personnel.

“I’m hearing some excellent ideas,” Patterson said. “But it seems our options are limited here.”

Claypool said the village’s best bet to get attention is to pursue the police/fire/-ambulance response time concern. “There is a real safety issue here,” he said.