By MARK TODD



Staff Writer

mtodd@starbeacon.com



CONNEAUT -- The preliminaries are nearly done, and now it's time for the main event.

Over the past several weeks, workers have prepared a stretch of Parrish Road for a $12.3 million bridge that will lift vehicle traffic over two sets of railroad tracks. Utility poles have been shifted and underground lines have been rerouted.

Work is ready to begin on the lengthy bridge that will finally give the city's west side an uninterrupted route to lakefront neighborhoods.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has an apparent low bidder on the project, said Jennifer Richmond, ODOT District 4 spokeswoman. The Ruhlin Company of Medina County is the favored contractor based on its $8.6 million bid, she said.

Once Ruhlin returns a signed contract, a pre-construction meeting will be scheduled and work can commence, Richmond said. "We could see the start of work at the end of April or the start of May," she said.

The construction bid is $8.6 million, but engineering, design and other costs will push the project over $12 million, Richmond said. Conneaut is obliged to pay 5 percent of the total cost, and has arranged a loan through an ODOT infrastructure program for its share.

The Parrish project has been in the pipeline for years, soon after the state created a railroad grade separation program to help communities affected by the 1999 acquisition of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX railways. The merger created a glut of train traffic along a northern Ohio corridor that clogs crossings.

Broad Street is the only thoroughfare in Conneaut linking routes 20 and 534 that isn't at the mercy of railroad crossings. Two bridges make that possible.

Conneaut was the first Ashtabula County community to participate in the state's grade separation program. Bridge work is also ahead in Geneva and Ashtabula.

Because of the length and grade of the bridge, the intersection of Parrish and Maple Avenue will be eliminated. The Parrish/Maple connection had provided the main truck access to a handful of industries on Maple.

As a result, a new route must be made to help trucks reach the Maple Avenue industries. The two options are Brown and Stadium avenue.

Cost of preparing the side streets to handle semi-truck traffic have been computed, and a final choice will await the results of meetings with residents and the factories, administrators have said.

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