The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

May 6, 2014

Chances of securing temporary crossing ‘virtually impossible’

NORTH KINGSVILLE — Chances of securing a temporary railroad crossing to handle traffic while a new bridge is built on Route 20 in North Kingsville are “virtually impossible,” said the Ohio Depart-ment of Transportation’s railroad liaison.

Rich Behrendt, ODOT’s state rail coordinator, had some discouraging words Monday afternoon for standing-room-only crowd at the village hall. “The odds are slim to none,” he said.

At issue is bridge construction project scheduled to start in 2015. The work would replace a span — built in 1940 — that lifts traffic over Norfolk Southern Railway tracks and links the village with Conneaut. Work is scheduled to begin in 2015.

Route 20 will be closed at construction site for as many as 300 days, according to ODOT. That lengthy closure period alarms residents and government officials. They worry response time for police, fire and emergency medical services will suffer. Also, North Kingsville side roads in the vicinity of the bridge will be heavily traveled — and possibly damaged — by the many motorists who finds alternatives to the official state detour.

One option floated recently was the construction of a temporary railroad crossing on Industry Road, adjacent to the bridge. Proponents suggest building a crossing where one once stood — until it was closed many years ago. The land that once held in the crossing is now in private hands.

Behrendt made it very clear Norfolk Southern and other railroads want to eliminate crossings, not create new ones — even temporarily — for liability reasons.

“Unfortunately, (NS) will not allow any new at-grade crossings,” he said. “It’s rare when they establish one. It’s a liability on the part of the railroad and the public.”

Even if NS would consider the request, the time needed to process an at-grade crossing applications routinely takes 12 to 18 months, “and you could still get no for an answer,” Behrendt said. A new bridge could be in place before the railroad responds to the request, he said.

“It’s extremely difficult to get that level of cooperation from a railroad,” he said.

Hopes were dashed further when a woman who said she owns the land where the temporary crossing would be built opposed the project because of traffic and noise concerns.

Many in the audience were critical of ODOT’s handling of the bridge project. A new bridge has been on the schedule for years, only to be delayed, they said. Now suddenly the work must be done immediately, unhappy residents said. ODOT could have spent the delay time planning bypass alternatives that don’t work such a hardship on the community, residents said.

“There was a way to mitigate this project,” one man told the ODOT contingent at the meeting. “You didn’t give it time.”

Lawrence “Skip” Eller, a former village councilman, agreed. “You dropped the ball,” he said.

Village officials said understood the bridge would be built in sections that would allow some vehicle use of the old span as its replacement was taking shape. Only until a few months ago did officials learn the entire bridge would be flattened at once, said Mayor Terry McConnell.

North Kingsville Fire Chief Brian Lehtonen said the detours will cost his fire and ambulance crews precious minutes in response time that could mean the difference between “life and death.”

Local leaders also repeated their fear that side roads will take a pounding from vehicles seeking a faster detour. The village can’t afford to maintain them, in addition to the culverts beneath state routes that are the village’s responsibility, said Councilman Edward Rettinger.

“We work with it every day,” he said.

Several ODOT officials attended the meeting, and collectively apologized for the delays and miscommunication. The state contingent said the bridge’s unique design, plus Columbus’ ill-fated decision to explore a tunnel as a construction option, contributed to the delays.

Also in the crowd were officials and safety personnel from Conneaut, as well as county and state representatives.

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