Many of the nearly 60 residents who came to hear an update on the long-awaited West End overpass expressed anger and frustration as deputy city engineer Kathy McKillips gave her annual update on the project.
Crammed into a conference room at the General Services Building, they criticized the project’s design and delay. Construction is scheduled to begin in May 2011 and isn’t expected to be complete until 2012.
“Twelve years,” said Bud Kerber, 71, who owns property on Tiffin Avenue. “That’s how long we’ve been waiting. That’s horrible.”
According to the project’s design, the Ohio Department of Transportation would build a west-to-east road connecting George Street to Tiffin Avenue, with an overpass above the train tracks that run north-to-south.
The city first began exploring the project in 2000, and the estimated cost was $12,062,732 in 2005.
That year, the city signed an agreement with ODOT, which said ODOT would fund 85 percent of the project. The railroads agreed to fund 10 percent and the city's 5 percent.
The city has already paid its 5 percent. But if the cost of the project increases, the contract says, the city would have to provide all additional money.
And with construction costs rising since 2005 — as well as other considerations such as drainage and lighting — the project will cost more than anticipated.
McKillips didn’t have a new cost estimate, but said the city would likely pay additional costs out of the sewer fund or possibly take out a loan.
She said they could also ask ODOT or U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s office to provide additional funding.
“The city’s broke. Can we afford to do this?” asked Joanne Boerckel, 61, who lives with her husband on Tiffin Avenue. “Because if it’s just your wish list, I’ve got a wish list too. I’d rather you just say ‘forget about it’ and leave me alone.”
John Feick, chairman of the city’s zoning board, said he’d rather the city scrap the entire project than go forward with the current design, which will block Tiffin Avenue permanently at the railroad tracks. It will leave some residents on the southwest side of the city a lengthy and circuitous route into downtown or onto U.S. 250.
“This is a permanently bad design,” Feick said, calling the plan “a monster.”
Like several homeowners, Boerckel is supposed to have her property purchased by ODOT to make room for the overpass. But because of delays in the project, she’s been waiting for years. The department promised to send an appraiser in early July, but it’s late August and she hasn’t heard from anyone.
“We want to retire, but we can’t buy a house because we don’t know how much we’re going to get paid,” she said. “To say I’m aggravated is an understatement.”
Not everyone was upset. Steve Hall, owner of Firelands Vending, said the project will enable his company to expand.
But many expressed frustration, lambasting ODOT for not sending a representative to the meeting even though the city extended an invitation. Others criticized the fact that pedestrians will not have access to the bridge.
Many had concerns that Venice Road, another major thoroughfare into Sandusky, will be semi-permanently obstructed because train companies would park their trains along the tracks, blocking traffic.
McKillips said the city can impose fines on the railroad companies, but the fines are probably too small to change the railroads’ ways.
Diedre Cole, who attended along with fellow city commission candidates Ed Feick and Kim Nuesse, said the plan for the project is no longer relevant.
“This is a plan from studies in 2000 and 2002, which isn’t applicable to 2010 and 2011,” Cole said. “Other future generations have to live with this. We need to start over and come up with a plan that works for 2010 demographics and traffic patterns.”
McKillips took notes and said she’d discuss the residents’ concerns with ODOT. The city will post ODOT’s responses on its Web site.
But most of these concerns have been mentioned before, she said. City commissioner Dave Waddington also noted if they scrap the project, safety is still a concern. Emergency vehicles and fire trucks can be blocked for 15 or 20 minutes by trains en route to the west side.
“Safety is the top issue,” Waddington said. “If you lose one life, how do you put a value on that?”