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Published: Wednesday, 10/1/2003

CSX says it can't afford to aid bridge project

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A CSX Transportation Corp. official has told the Ohio Department of Transportation that the railroad can't afford to help pay for a bridge project that would ease train congestion at a busy junction in Northwood.

The decision deals a critical blow to the proposal to elevate CSX's tracks through Northwood, allowing it to pass over Wales Road and the Norfolk Southern tracks that intersect CSX at Vickers Crossing.

While a state official declined to rule that option out, he said a cheaper version under which Wales would be realigned and pass over the two sets of tracks on bridges now appears more likely.

“We are still receptive to a rail-rail separation,” said Mike Ligibel, the planning and programs administrator at ODOT's district office in Bowling Green. But unless an alternative source is found for the $12 million to $15 million that project planners had hoped CSX would contribute, Mr. Ligibel said, the budget for that version is broken.

Any construction is at least three years away, Mr. Ligibel said, with environmental studies and right-of-way acquisition still to come. A public meeting about the issue is likely to be held before Thanksgiving, he said.

Pat Bacon, Northwood's city administrator, said relocating Wales would solve her city's traffic delays, but wouldn't address the larger rail-related congestion problems.

“It's a huge project, a huge undertaking, and very expensive,” Ms. Bacon said. “Once those road-grade separations go in, Vickers [junction separation] will never happen.”

Between 130 and 150 trains per day pass through Vickers, a junction that Norfolk Southern controls. Wales Road crosses each set of tracks a few hundred yards away from the track intersection, and is often blocked by stopped or slow-moving trains.

A feasibility study completed last month by a state consultant estimated the cost of relocating Wales at about $10.6 million, while elevating the CSX tracks was predicted to cost about $18 million more.

Local transportation planners, led by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, promoted the higher-cost option on the grounds it would have greater benefits. Beyond just relieving traffic delays on Wales, they said, replacing the Vickers intersection with a rail bridge would reduce train backups that sometimes extend as far north as Michigan, occasionally blocking other street crossings along the way.

The Taft administration in 2001 committed $8 million toward the project's budget, while Congress appropriated $4 million more later that year, and the city of Northwood and TMACOG have budgeted smaller amounts. CSX was being counted on for most, if not all, of the balance, as the project's benefits to Norfolk Southern would be minimal.

In a Sept. 15 letter to Mike Ciotola, ODOT's railroad grade separation program manager, CSX's Charles E. Gullakson said the company “has no objection to the concept of grade separating the CSX/Norfolk Southern crossing,” but understood there to be “a $10-plus million funding gap preventing the project from moving forward.

“Although CSX Transportation would like to see the rail-rail grade separation move forward, it appears that this is not possible due to private and public funding constraints,” said Mr. Gullakson, CSX's assistant chief engineer for public improvements.

Bob Sullivan, a railroad spokesman, said yesterday that he did not know if there was a lower dollar amount that CSX might have been able to afford to contribute.

“We put together what we thought was a viable deal, and we're disappointed that the railroad didn't agree with us,” David Dysard, the metropolitan council's vice president for transportation, said.

“We'd still like to see the project get accomplished, and we're looking for any other options. But if we can't find any, we'll have to move forward with the highway option,” Mr. Dysard said.

“Their `fair share' was too much for them,” said Robert Greenlese, director of surface transportation and logistics for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, who made several trips to CSX offices in Jacksonville to promote port authority financing for the project.



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