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Fostoria foes of rail overpasses turn up protest

FOSTORIA - To Bernadette Reinhart, the thought of having the state build a city railroad overpass a half-mile from her rural home is nothing short of a nightmare.

She fears a decrease in the value of her Washington Township Road 262 property, as well as an increase in noise and traffic.

“Basically it was thrown in our laps. We want to do whatever we can to make it not happen,” Ms. Reinhart said yesterday. “We're sorry about the city of Fostoria, but we have to think about ourselves too.”

Fostoria officials met last week with the Ohio Department of Transportation, area county engineers, and trustees from Washington and Loudon townships to discuss the state's plans to contribute $10.8 million to help the city build three railroad overpasses.

At that meeting, Mayor John Davoli said local officials viewed blueprints for the first two proposed overpasses at Loudon Township Road 43 and Washington Township Road 262.

Construction of the $4 million Loudon Township overpass could begin next year, while the second one is expected to be more time-consuming and cost $5 million.

Brian Cunningham, an ODOT spokesman, said the recent meeting was only an initial discussion about the proposals. He said no final decisions have been made.

Mr. Davoli said the city's next step is to file a letter with the state by May 11 responding to the engineer's plans and outlining its intent to proceed. He said city officials will accept comments for that letter through the end of this week.

State officials “seem quite optimistic that things are moving along fine, and we're in good shape,” Mr. Davoli said.

Safety is the main reason for building the overpasses, he said. They are needed in several sections of the city where road access is cut off by stopped trains. Emergency vehicles can't reach those areas if trains are in the way.

But some people, inside and outside the city, continue to oppose the city's plans.

Karen Mitchem, who owns a home in the Fostoria neighborhood known as the Iron Triangle, which is blocked by rail lines, believes she and her neighbors were used as pawns by city officials who ultimately want to build a loop road to alleviate heavy truck traffic on U.S. 23. She said it makes no sense for construction of a railroad overpass out of town, as residents in her neighborhood still will be trapped by trains unless they drive from the city. She said it would be beneficial to the city, though, if it ever receives funding for the loop road.

Ms. Mitchem said she intends to drive to Columbus May 22 for a state Transportation Review Advisory Committee meeting, at which she would like to address the state's plans for Fostoria.

But Mr. Davoli said state officials were the ones who selected the overpass locations after looking at a list of proposed sites that included rail-blocked city areas of Town Street and West Tiffin Street.

He said the state decided against construction there because of the high cost, which could have been as much as $15 million. Still, Mr. Davoli said state officials have agreed to conduct additional engineering and research work in those areas.

“We're thankful to ODOT. I think we're trying in good faith to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Mr. Davoli said. “Folks have to remember, it's a limited pot.”

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