On the wrong track|Tiffin Avenue residents face uncertain future as overpass plans drag on

SANDUSKY They can't sell. They don't know when they have to move. They're stuck at the tracks, hosta
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

They can't sell. They don't know when they have to move. They're stuck at the tracks, hostage in their homes.

Several residents of Tiffin Avenue, where the proposed train overpass would be built, feel like they've been held hostage in their homes since 2002 when the city and Ohio Department of Transportation announced the train overpass plan.

When local and state officials green-lighted the project, the homes of residents like the Taylors, Pattersons and Boerckels were in the way.

The neighbors looked at the plans and discovered they could fight a battle of eminent domain or sell their homes. They accepted the fate of their homes and waited to hear when they'd have to move. That was five years ago, and the time table remains a mystery.

And so the game of hurry-up-and-wait continues -- fix the leak in the roof, but not re-roof the house; modernize the bathroom, but not add on more space.

The paint peels a little, the driveway could use a fresh coat of blacktop, but what's the point if you're going to have to move and can't stake a for sale sign in your yard?

"We don't question the good for the community -- this is needed," said Joanne Boerckel, 57, who will sell her 1803 Tiffin Ave. home whenever ODOT comes calling.

"The only thing we want to do is have it happen in a timely manner," added Seretha Taylor, 75.

She and her husband, Samuel, 77, said lawn maintenance is becoming a challenge at their age. They're ready to move, despite raising a family and calling 1913 Tiffin Ave. home for 30 years.

All they need is a date.

Roy Patterson, 64, and his siblings recently took over care of the childhood home his parents built when he was 10. Up until his father's death this spring, the overpass project caused his father to wring the same hands with which he built the house, wondering when he would have to leave his home.

"We didn't talk about it in the backyard because it would bring him to tears," Boerckel said.

The neighborhood feels like the uncertainty is never-ending -- relying on the newspaper to learn where the overpass project stands.

"These people are standing on the trap door of the gallows, just waiting for them to open," Patterson said.

Patterson said the latest news that drainage was a concern for the project didn't surprise him. When he was a child, a stream ran through his parents' property. To this day, he said, crayfish unearth themselves in the Pattersons' and Boerckels' backyards each summer.

"This is not feasible to build an overpass on water," Boerckel said.

The city has determined a sewer running along the train tracks won't provide adequate drainage. Adaptations to the existing plans will be necessary to move drainage from the overpass elsewhere, potentially as far down as Venice Road.

The ball is back in the state's court, City Engineer Kathy McKillips told commissioners Monday. The state will have to make alternate drainage plans -- plans that will cost more. The city will have to pay more than the 5 percent of the $12 million the project is expected to cost.

Brian Stacy, a spokesman for ODOT said the project is on track for bidding in 2009 and financially on target. But Stacy couldn't comment on when the residents will have to move or when offers will be made on their homes.

"It seems like each time one of us asks, we get a different story," Boerckel said.

"All we want is an answer we can live by," said Samuel Taylor.

THE ISSUE

Homeowners affected by the future Tiffin Avenue railroad overpass don't know when to expect the Ohio Department of Transportation to buy their homes, necessary for the overpass's right of way.

New: Drainage issues are the latest challenges posed to building the overpass.

Next: The project will be bid out in 2009 and construction will begin several months later with completion in 2011, according to ODOT.