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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Road burden shifts as upkeep passes to towns

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Henry County towns such as Florida, Ohio, face the task of maintaining State Rt. 424. Henry County towns such as Florida, Ohio, face the task of maintaining State Rt. 424.
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FLORIDA, Ohio - Road repair often has been a community affair in this tiny Henry County town, where residents volunteer to patch up their own roads and create street signs.

That workload - and financial burden - is expected to increase.

When the new, four-lane U.S. 24 is built from Maumee to Indiana, the Ohio Department of Transportation plans to abandon State Rt. 424, leaving local governments with the upkeep of the winding road that hugs the Maumee River in Henry and Defiance counties.

The change upsets some local leaders, who see it as another unfunded mandate - one they say they simply can t afford.

“Right now, it s a big concern how the local communities ... would come up with the money to maintain the highway,” said Henry County Commissioner Rita Franz, noting particular hardships for the village of Florida and the city of Napoleon.

She said the commissioners budget can t absorb the road work either.

The decision to abandon State Rt. 424 was made as a result of meetings held in the communities last fall. In addition, parts of the existing U.S. 24 in Defiance, Paulding, and Lucas counties also will be abandoned in places where the highway is completely rebuilt, officials said.

Henry County Engineer Randy Germann this week sent a letter to Kirk Slusher, district planning administrator for ODOT in Lima, outlining his concerns about the changes.

Mr. Germann said he and others still hope ODOT will change its plans. He said he has met with fellow engineers in Lucas and Defiance counties and the three agreed that State Rt. 424 should not be changed. They also proposed that the old, unused portion of U.S. 24 in Lucas County become 424 as well, he added.

“It s a State Scenic Highway and it should remain that,” Mr. Germann said, noting the presence of state parks along the way.

Mr. Slusher said yesterday that he s aware of the complaints, but he said it remains the state s plans to abandon the parallel transportation corridors, focusing efforts and money on the major routes.

“I understand that they re not happy about it, but that s the direction the department has chosen to take,” he said. “Our objective is to provide a transportation system that s as efficient as possible.”

He said there are funding opportunities available to cities and counties for bridge and road projects.

In a letter to a local leader, Mr. Slusher said “ODOT remains committed to working with local governments to assure that the route is in good condition prior to relinquishing its maintenance responsibility.”

Florida Mayor Richard Rickenberg said he hopes the state will stick to that intention, something that definitely would help the 260-resident town of Florida, which has just one general store and lacks its own post office.

If the streets were handed over by the state in a condition of disrepair, Mr. Rickenberg said it could wipe out the mere $33,000 the village has on hand for street repairs.

The mayor said village leaders pride themselves on keeping the town clean and attractive, and they have a street committee with volunteers who often make their own road signs. Years ago, the village used to save money by plowing their own roads.

Mr. Rickenberg said he s not sure yet how the village will afford long-term maintenance on State Rt. 424, such as sewer repairs.

U.S. 24 construction is expected to begin in 2006, starting with $18.5 million for work between State Rts. 15 and 424 on the west side of Defiance.

Sections between Defiance and Napoleon ($32 million) and between Route 424 and the Indiana line ($138.5 million) are scheduled for 2007, while the $143 million stretch between Napoleon and Waterville is scheduled to start in 2008.



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