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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Railroad overpass not likely soon

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bacon Bacon
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After a telephone conference call with state and federal lawmakers, Northwood Administrator Pat Bacon said she fears the city will remain a community divided by railroad tracks for years to come.

A railroad crossing near Wales and Drouillard roads is one of several places where motorists are stifled by slow-moving trains that travel through nearly every 10 minutes. The Norfolk Southern and CSX railroad companies own the tracks.

Northwood has been seeking funding to build an overpass over the rails using a program started in 2001 under former Gov. Bob Taft. The program was designed to eliminate the most dangerous railroad crossings throughout the state. But nearly 10 years later, no overpass has been built over Wales.

Last year, Northwood received a $490,000 federal allocation for the overpass with help from the late U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Tiffin), but the estimated cost to complete the Wales project is about $22 million, including construction, engineering, right-of-way purchase, and environmental compliance specifications.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has secured more than $3 million from CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Northwood in addition to $5.9 million set aside from the state's origi-nal program budget and the federal allocation.

Ms. Bacon spent Monday morning on the phone with U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green); state Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), and representatives of ODOT, which is in charge of the project, trying to secure more funding.

She said the lawmakers told her completing the project on schedule in 2010 may not be realistic. "It was a little disheartening, but we will still continue talks," Ms. Bacon said. "I think it's something that can still happen in the future, but by future, I mean something beyond two or three years from now."

Mike Ligibel, planning and programs administrator for ODOT's District 2, which includes Northwood, said the project is $11 million short of the necessary funding. ODOT is proceeding with design plans even though it may not have the money to implement them in two years. "There's a lot of things in two years that could impact the ability of this project to go forward," he said. "Hopefully, money becomes available and the project is ready."

Mr. Latta said he would discuss possible funding for the project in a congressional subcommittee.

Mr. Gardner said he would talk to ODOT administrators about moving up Northwood's project on the department's priority list or try to persuade Norfolk Southern or CSX to offer more funding.

"I do think we need to make sure this is a priority and keep working to that end," he said. "If there's a way to secure more money from Norfolk Southern or CSX, we might be successful through that end."

Until then, Ms. Bacon said Northwood will remain a community divided by the railroad tracks.

"That leaves us right where we have been our entire lives," she said. "That leaves us with two fire stations. That leaves us with two elementary schools. This is something we've done for the last 40 years."

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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