Massillon Independent

July 29, 2005

$1.2 million earmarked for Tremont

By R.J. Villella
and Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – A federal highway bill will yield $1.2 million for the replacement of the Tremont Avenue Viaduct, at the immediate cost of another area road project.

At the request of Stark County Engineer Mike Rehfus, Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre, eliminated $800,000 in funding for the Alabama Avenue project in Tuscarawas Township, redirecting the funds to rehabilitation of the Tremont Avenue bridge over the Tuscarawas River in Massillon.

The funds are part of a $286.4 billion, multi-year transportation reauthorization agreement that was expected to win approval in the House late Thursday night and in the Senate today. More than $7.5 billion has been earmarked for Ohio roads, bridges and mass transit over the next five years.

The landmark legislation, which authorizes federal transportation funding through 2009, is expected to create more than 20,000 jobs in Ohio during that time.

Locally, the bill provides more than $20 million for specific highway and bridge projects in Stark County, and more than $8 million for projects in Tuscarawas County.

Regula’s office said asbestos was discovered in the steel beams supporting the Tremont Avenue bridge, and that without replacement of the beams, the state would close the bridge.

The Alabama Road project, including repaving, widening and other improvements between Elton Street North and Wooster Street, will not receive any federal funding. As a result, the bridge project, which was expecting $720,000, would now get $1.2 million.

That’s a start, said Massillon City Engineer Steve Hamit, but an estimated $3 million to $3.3 million will be needed for the project.

“It’s a joint project with the county,” he explained. “Stark County Engineer Mike Rehfus and I are trying to find the balance of funds from other sources.”

What started as a $3 million bridge rehabilitation project quickly became a complete rebuilding effort when asbestos was discovered in the paint.

Now, with the combined cost of the abandoned rehabilitation and the rebuilding, the total project cost could approach the $6 million mark. The price tag likely won’t go that high, Hamit said, because some of the funding secured for the rehabilitation may not be used.

When enough funds are found to rebuild the bridge it’s new configuration will be as a two-lane structure. About 6,900 drivers use the Tremont viaduct each day.

The bridge was built in 1947 and the last time the viaduct received major work was in the late 1970s, Hamit said. It was completely rebuilt in 1966 for the cost of $400,000. The state was supposed to rehab it in 1997 but ran short of funds.

Currently, a work crew is busy removing the steel beams. Once that’s done, they will seal off each end as a safety precaution.

The old bridge width was 53 feet overall and the new span width will be 42 feet – two 14-foot lanes and a 10-foot sidewalk, Hamit said.

County Commissioner Gayle Jackson said Rehfus had briefed them about his plans to shift funding to the Tremont viaduct.

“He was excited about being able to be part of that project,” she said.

Jackson said she has no problem with the way Rehfus has prioritized the projects.

“We can’t have a bridge out,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll reapply for funding for Alabama. The people along Alabama probably won’t be happy. But sometimes choices have to be made.”

In Tuscarawas County, Rep. Bob Ney, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said his $7.1 million in earmarked projects all survived in the final bill.

His earmarks also include $2 million for three projects on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, including a pedestrian bridge over I-77 in Bolivar, a tunnel beneath a railroad south of Zoar and an aqueduct bridge over the Tuscarawas River north of Bolivar.

Another $1.6 million was earmarked for Tuscarawas County to add left turn lanes, traffic signals and other safety improvements along State Route 39. Voinovich and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, wrote that project into the bill.

Ney also secured $100,000 to begin a feasibility study examining the need to raise the elevation of state highways affected by flooding in Tuscarawas County earlier this year.

Ney reserved $5 million for construction of an interchange at County Route 80 on Interstate 77 near Dover.

Stark County also will receive $2.5 million for safety improvements along State Route 172 in an earmark secured by Voinovich and DeWine. In a statement, the senators said the stretch of road has had 486 crashes, causing one death and 208 injuries in recent years.

The current $218 billion transportation spending plan expired in September 2003. Because of Congress’ failure to pass a new bill, lawmakers had to approve 11 extensions to allow federal spending to continue.