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$23M Bridge Project in Northeast Ohio Under Way — Finally

Thu September 16, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Linda J. Hutchinson

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials began the design process to replace the aging Crain Avenue bridge in Portage County, in Ohio’s northeast corner, in November 2007. The bridge had been deemed structurally deficient and in poor condition during a 2001 inspection.

It was deemed in “critical” condition by 2007, and it is one of only five bridges that cross over the Cuyahoga River and CSX and W&LE Railroad rail lines.

Portage County, which owns the Crain Avenue bridge has made repairs each year to maintain it until the new bridge could be built.

The $23 million project is now on schedule for completion in December 2012. James Bowling, city engineer, credited a partnership with major funding contributors for pushing this project through its final funding hurdles.

Funding contributors include ODOT, Association of Mediation and Transport Services (AMATS), Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC), County Engineers Association of Ohio (CEAO), and CSX Railway and W&LE Railroad. Major funding also came from the Highway Safety Program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These project partners are contributing $19 million of the cost, with City of Kent and Portage County making up the shortfall. The contractor is Beaver Excavating of Canton, Ohio.

According to Bowling, the greatest benefits to be derived from this project go beyond replacing the aging bridge. Reducing congestion at the “most congested intersection in the AMATS Region, per a 2006 report,” is considered to be the highest priority.

There were “180 documented accidents from 2005-2007” in this area. Approximately 17,000 vehicles cross over the existing bridge every day. This project also “created critical connection in the Portage Hike and Bike Trail,” said Bowling.

Besides obtaining funding, “the biggest mitigating circumstances involve coordinating two railroad crossings and building around the local flour mills delivery schedule from the rail lines. This requires us to construct all the railroad improvements from July through September in each construction season,” Bowling said.

“In particular, the Crain Avenue bridge relocation project in Kent… [is] quite complicated… by its small work area and the need to relocate utilities and railroad tracks, and to widen adjacent streets,” said Dave Nist, area engineer of Portage County.

While the new four-lane bridge will improve safety, as well as creating better traffic flow, additional turning lanes and a through lane are being constructed at the Fairchild/Crain Avenue/SR 43 intersection.

This intersection is currently the most highly congested intersection in Portage and Summit Counties, according to reports.

The project is divided into four phases: Phase 1 will include bridge construction, utility relocations at S.R. 43, Crain Avenue, Water and Lake Streets, and pavement construction on S.R. 43. The railway improvements, detours for Fairchild and Crain Avenues, and bridge construction are consolidated in and continue during Phase 2A. Crain and Fairchild Avenues will be closed to all but residential traffic during this time.

Phase 3 will open the Fairchild Avenue bridge (renamed) and include railroad construction. During Phase 4, the Crain Avenue bridge will be demolished, and pavement construction, pedestrian bridge and bike path construction, and landscaping will take place.

The existing Crain Avenue bridge is expected to remain open during Phases 1 through 3, while Fairchild Avenue is closed for new bridge construction.

According to a brochure posted by the City of Kent, Portage County and ODOT, “the new Fairchild Avenue Bridge, roadway improvements, and state-of-the-art traffic and pedestrian signal systems will reduce congestion and improve safety in the area. Combined with the new bike trail and pedestrian bridge, wider sidewalks and tree lawns, the project will provide a pedestrian-friendly facility, better access to businesses, and will greatly improve the face of this major entrance into the City of Kent.”

According to the City of Kent, the new bridge will extend Fairchild Avenue to Water Street and will eliminate the S.R. 43 and Crain Avenue intersection. Its Web site credits this design feature to community input.

Environmentally-friendly design features will include re-using the old Crain Avenue bridge sandstone for terraced walls incorporated into the landscaping and a new wetland and vegetative swale. The Context Sensitive Design (CSD) process was used to determine needs, purposes, and community goals.

Steel beams have been placed on the new bridge foundations and the retaining walls for the bike path tunnel, which will pass beneath the new bridge, are currently under construction.

An access causeway has been installed approximately 1 mi. downstream and 100 yds. upstream of Brady’s Leap to restrict the river flow from 70 ft. wide to a 21 ft. wide sluice. A bridge crossing has been placed over the sluice.

In February 2009, an article posted at stated, “If ever there might be a local project that is shovel-ready and a good candidate for federal stimulus money, the Crain Avenue bridge in Kent appears to be it.”

Local residents lamented the fact this bridge replacement was nearly a decade in the making, the cost had increased by $2.1 million, and could not be done without federal stimulus money.

At that time, Portage County Engineer Michael Marozzi warned that county coffers were about $1 million short of the needed funding. ODOT’s final cost figures had not been brought in yet and the project, even with partnership help, was still short. He feared the project would have to be pushed back at least a year, and it was.

“I have been putting money aside for four years, anticipating the cost [to Portage County] would be about $1 million to $1.5 million. I did not anticipate a cost that high.” Bids coming in substantially lower than engineer’s estimates, due to the recession, was considered a necessity to proceed.

Local residents complained bitterly about the need for the new bridge, and better planning for it, to prevent the cut-throughs to Kent State University via Crain Avenue’s residential district. The Kent Citizen Advisory Committee also was active in presenting ideas for the new construction.

Right-of-way acquisitions involved obtaining property from 47 owners. ODOT was instrumental in working with local utilities to determine impacts to existing utility infrastructure and where new infrastructure would be relocated. ODOT, ABC Railroad and CSX Railroad coordinated on establishing the required legal documents to construct the project in and above the railroads’ facilities.

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