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Published: Monday, 3/19/2007

Turnpike at odds with area official over repair costs

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Who s responsible for building and maintaining the bridges that carry township or county roads over the Ohio Turnpike has long been the subject of numerous disputes.

But the responsibility for maintaining earthwork built on the approaches to those bridges apparently hasn t gotten similar attention until now.

For more than a decade, Sandusky County Engineer James Moyer has been asking the Ohio Turnpike Commission to repair nine collapsing embankments that ramp local roads that cross the toll road on bridges. And for more than a decade, the turnpike has denied responsibility, saying that its upkeep extends only as far as the right-of-way line that parallels its roadway.

It s an issue that could just as easily spring up between the state and local authorities on state-maintained freeways, officials said.

In the meantime, the embankments along the turnpike in Sandusky County have continued to slump, causing guardrails to fall down their sides and cracks to open up in the shoulders. Early this month, Riley Township trustees closed Township Road 226, also known as Jacobs Road, at the turnpike because of the condition of its embankments. Signs are to be posted on nearby Township Road 202 (Carley Road), warning of hazardous conditions.

One official estimated the cost of fixing the earthwork at more than $2 million.

Mr. Moyer said more of the roads may have to close if repairs aren t made soon, but the county and especially Riley Township to which seven of the nine belong can t afford the cost.

We re very fortunate that they re low-volume roads and only local people drive them, Mr. Moyer said. If we had to close all of them, that would be a big problem for getting people and especially emergency vehicles through.

Lauren Hakos, a turnpike spokesman, said the toll road s policy dates back to a resolution the turnpike commission adopted in 1952, and which was incorporated in documents that county officials across northern Ohio accepted as turnpike overpasses were completed all along the toll road s route.

Since then, Ms. Hakos said, the turnpike commission has done road repairs near the bridges, without reimbursement, because the bridges needed repair and we were being a good neighbor. But the commission feels no obligation to do such repairs on a regular basis, she said.

Jacobs Road in Sandusky County, also known as Riley Township Road 226, is closed as it nears the Ohio Turnpike. Township trustees acted because of the deteriorating embankments. Jacobs Road in Sandusky County, also known as Riley Township Road 226, is closed as it nears the Ohio Turnpike. Township trustees acted because of the deteriorating embankments.
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Mr. Moyer, however, maintains that if the turnpike weren t there, the earthwork wouldn t be there, either.

Legally, they had to build the bridges to get the roads over the turnpike, he said. But for the bridges to be usable, they had to build the embankments.

I can see why the asphalt is our responsibility, said Dan Polter, a Riley Township trustee. But what good is that concrete and steel sitting up there without approaches?

Both sides say their position is supported by an opinion that C. William O Neill, Ohio s attorney general, wrote in 1953.

Mr. O Neill found that maintaining the pavement of local roads crossing the turnpike remained a local responsibility, but the structure by which such paved surface is supported is a part of [the turnpike] and its maintenance and repair is the responsibility of the turnpike commission.

Mr. Moyer said the structure supporting the local roads turnpike crossings logically includes embankments under approaches, though he conceded that there is no explicit reference to the embankments at all. Ms. Hakos said Mr. O Neill s opinion only covers the bridges themselves.

In one area

One oddity about the embankment problem is that it arose only along about nine miles of the turnpike, even though the toll road s construction required bridges for several hundred intersecting roads along its 241-mile route between the Pennsylvania and Indiana borders. An embankment along the turnpike itself in eastern Sandusky County recently needed repair.

While some embankments built elsewhere for the turnpike collapsed to varying degrees shortly after their 1950s construction, immediate repairs have held up since then. Engineers for Williams, Fulton, Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, and Erie counties all said they have had no embankment problems with their local bridges over the turnpike.

When I talk to my fellow county engineers, they have no idea what I m talking about, Mr. Moyer said.

It s just this one local area. It s not happening anywhere else.

The same problem has arisen, however, along State Rt. 2 near Port Clinton. Since the mid-1990s, the Ohio Department of Transportation has had to repair at least three earthworks collapses: on Route 2 s eastbound exit to State Rt. 53, on the Fulton Street overpass, and on westbound Route 2 itself just west of the easterly interchange with State Rt. 163.

Doug Rogers, the district geotechnical engineer at ODOT s Bowling Green office, said the problems along Route 2 were with clay-rich topsoil upon which those embankments were built during the 1960s. Fill soil used for the embankments was not integrated with the clay and so, over time, the fill soil slipped outward on top of the topsoil, causing a slow collapse, he said.

As soon as you get cracks open, water gets in and adds a huge driving force, Mr. Rogers said, noting that similar slip-outs have occurred in recent years on State Rt. 105 west of Woodville and I-75 near North Baltimore.

ODOT repairs

ODOT fixed the Fulton Street embankment because we had an active project where we were doing bridge work there, said Aaron Behrman, the state s production administrator in Bowling Green.

Consequently, Mr. Behrman said, no responsibility debate ever arose, but ODOT shares the turnpike commission s belief that its legal responsibility for overpass maintenance ends at the right-of-way line.

Mr. Moyer said he has asked the office of Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann for a new opinion specific to the embankment question, and the county s state legislators say further action is needed.

State Sen. Larry Mumper (R., Marion) said it might be appropriate for a neutral party to arbitrate the dispute. But State Rep. Jeff Wagner (R., Sycamore) said he d consider introducing a bill assigning responsibility to the turnpike commission.

The township and county roads were clearly there before the turnpike, and the grade separations were built for the benefit of the turnpike, Mr. Wagner said.

The turnpike should be the ones to maintain them.

Mr. Polter, meanwhile, said that if Riley Township ends up holding the bag, it can t afford to fix the embankments. While no cost estimates have been obtained, Mr. Polter said that based on the $250,000 the turnpike spent to fix the collapsed embankment along its main line, fixing just one local-road embankment would come close to Riley Township s entire annual budget of $350,000.

Contact David Patch at:dpatch@theblade.comor 419-724-6094.



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