FOSTORIA -- For years, the crews on CSX Transportation Corp. trains approaching Fostoria from Toledo stopped their trains just short of the Jones Rd. railroad crossing north of town unless -- or until -- the tower operator at "F" Tower informed them by radio they could proceed.
But that still meant that the busy road would be blocked while the trains slowly accelerated away from their stopped position, and Fire Chief Keith Loreno says Murphy's Law often applied: There always seemed to be a train there whenever a fire engine wanted to cross the tracks.
"It would always rear its ugly head," the fire chief said Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Jones Road Overpass -- a $6.14 million bridge that has ended once and for all emergency responders' uncertainty about Jones' availability.
"It will quicken response times, and that's good for public safety," Police Chief John McGuire said.
Of three bridges planned for Fostoria by the Ohio Department of Transportation to relieve the city's notorious train-related traffic delays, it's the second one to be finished.
Before the ribbon-cutting, local leaders also emphasized the economic development potential offered by the overpass, which links U.S. 23 on the city's northwest side with a growing industrial district east of the CSX Transportation Corp. tracks.
"It's been a long time coming," said Joan Reinhard, Fostoria's director of economic development. Along with improving Fostoria's quality of life and public safety, she said, the bridge will provide "a significant boost for all areas of the city."
Mayor John Davoli said the bridge should enhance the city's ability to develop business related to CSX's opening earlier this year of a major intermodal terminal in nearby North Baltimore.
Completion of the Jones span, built by Miller Brothers Construction of Archbold, follows completion five years ago of the Tiffin Street bridge on the city's southwest side.
Jones was closed for the better part of two years while its bridge was built.
"When's the project going to be done?" was a common question during the two years of construction, Mayor Davoli said, and "it was frustrating with all the trucks going through town."
About 40 members of the Fostoria High School band led a procession of emergency vehicles across the bridge after the ceremony, while three classes of grade-school children -- most not born when then-Gov. Bob Taft announced Ohio's $200 million railroad "grade separation" program that would come to include the Fostoria bridges -- were the first to walk across its sidewalk.
Just before the band stepped out, an empty CSX coal train that had been stopped beneath the bridge -- a train that, in the past, would have been waiting north of the Jones crossing -- slowly accelerated away and whistled off in the distance for the Culberson Avenue grade crossing on its way toward Columbus.
Still to be built is a bridge on Loudon Township Rd. 43 and a related connector road into a neighborhood on Fostoria's southeast side that, on occasion, can be cut off entirely from the rest of the city by trains.
Mayor Davoli and department officials said building that third bridge is strictly a matter of funding. The city is looking at splitting the project into two stages, with the connector road to go first, the mayor said.
Fostoria, with dozens of daily trains on each of three main lines that intersect just southeast of the city's center, is among the busiest railroad towns in the United States.
Along with Township Rd. 43, two other projects in the plan remain to be built elsewhere in northwest Ohio: the McCord Rd. underpass in Holland and two bridges on Wales Rd. in Northwood.
Utility work for the Wales project has been done and a construction contract is scheduled to be awarded next month, said Theresa Pollick, an ODOT spokesman in Bowling Green. The McCord underpass is scheduled for construction starting in 2014.
A bridge carrying Hallett Ave. over Norfolk Southern tracks in Swanton was started last year and is on schedule to open next year, Ms. Pollick said.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.
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