The $11.2 million Wales Road overpass project, after years of delays, is finally underway.
The construction contract had been awarded to E.S. Wagner Company earlier this year.
The project entails the construction of two overpasses over the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on Wales Road that would effectively eliminate three railroad crossings on Drouillard and Wales roads. As part of the project, Wales and Drouillard will be realigned south of their current locations.
“Construction began in May,” Theresa Pollick, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 2 office. “So far, project crews are performing drainage work, building the overpass embankment and building the MSE wall, similar to a retaining wall for bridges. This work will be ongoing through most of this year. Late fall and winter, work will begin on the bridges.”
Bridge and pavement work will occur next year, she added.
The city has fought long and hard for the overpass project.
“Even today I went by there, and it was like, `They’re really going to do this,’” said Mayor Mark Stoner. “It’s a good feeling. It won’t be long before we forget what is there now and it will all be changed. They’re starting on the hills, with truck after truck rolling in.”
The purpose of the project, as with other railroad grade separation projects, is to improve safety and eliminate delays. Wales Road is the only east-west street linking Northwood’s business district with its westerly neighborhoods.
The project is being financed by 90 percent federal, 5 percent local and 5 percent railroad funds.
The city has been earmarking $100,000 per year for the last 10 years as part of its local match, said Stoner. Despite a tough economy, layoffs and budget cuts in the last few years, the city has never touched the funds.
“We have $1 million put away hoping this day would come,” said Stoner, adding that the city got so used to putting $100,000 aside each year that he plans to continue earmarking that amount for a possible rainy day fund.
“We had to hold that money. It worked out for us. We have $1 million ready to go. It’s something we got used to doing. We’ll be able to use funds in the rainy day account in case something very unexpected happens.
Despite the delays, the project, said Stoner, is “one of the biggest things to ever happen in Northwood.”
“I know it’s been the biggest thing for me,” he said.
“It’s not just because of the inconvenience of trains blocking traffic,” he said. “The main concern has always been safety. There is no direct route east to west for our police and fire services without the risk of catching a train. That’s why we have a fire station on each side of town – one on Wales Road, and one on Tracy Road. That’s a cost to the city. A normal city our size would have just one fire department.”
The project, which is expected to be completed in November, 2013, will require temporary road closures, said Pollick. This year, Wales Road will remain open to traffic during construction.
“Weather permitting, summer 2013, Wales Road will close for approximately 90 days in order to connect the new road to the old one at either end,” she said.
The city had to overcome obstacles along the way.
Plans initially called for the construction of a rail-to-rail crossing to elevate CSX tracks over Norfolk Southern tracks at Vickers Crossing as a regional solution to the train traffic in Northwood and surrounding communities. A railroad crossing study conducted by the Toledo Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) in 1993 showed approximately 130 trains cross four sets of Norfolk Southern and CSX at-grade tracks daily at Vickers, where the tracks intersect, tying up traffic. But the city dropped those plans after it was estimated to cost $30 million, and instead chose the cheaper, more limited option of building the overpasses.
The project got a shot in the arm in 2000, when former Governor Bob Taft traveled to Vickers Crossing to announce a $200 million, 10 year program to fund railroad overpasses.
In 2006, Congress transferred $4 million in funds earmarked for the project to two other communities in Ohio. The Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) later announced it would fill the shortfall caused by the transferred funds.