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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

North Baltimore highway plan draws opposition

Residents protest loss of farmland

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Residents of the southeastern corner of Wood County's Henry Township are organizing opposition to Ohio Department of Transportation plans to reroute State Rt. 18 around North Baltimore across farmland in the township.

"It will take farmland from farmers and ruin the serene country life of people in its path," Nicole Whitacre, an area resident who called a meeting Wednesday to plot strategy, said in a statement. "ODOT is favoring the quickest and most destructive route to make CSX happy. They could use existing roadways."

The CSX reference is to CSX Transportation Corp.'s newly opened freight-transfer terminal nearby, a facility expected to attract growing numbers of trucks headed to or from I-75, with Route 18 through -- or around -- North Baltimore being the main thoroughfare.

But in studying four alternative routes to get the state highway out of the village, the department has ruled out two of three options that mainly use existing roads.

Designating Liberty Hi Road as part of State Rt. 18 -- either north to Cygnet Road or south to State Rt. 613 -- then sending the Route 18 designation east to I-75 would cost too much because of upgrades those roads would need, said Mike Gramza, the planning and engineering administrator at the department's Bowling Green district office.

"Those pavements aren't constructed to handle state route traffic," Mr. Gramza said of the two options. Besides rebuilding and widening the local roads, he said, bridges and culverts would need to be replaced to handle the heavier traffic.

The transportation department favors its so-called "Option 1," a new roadway taking a diagonal course across open fields east of Liberty Hi to reach Belmore Road near Hough Road, because it affects the fewest individual properties -- nine -- and doesn't involve taking any homes, two significant factors that also help make it the low-cost choice, Mr. Gramza said.

The "Option 4" alternative still under consideration would use Liberty Hi as far as Belmore Road, then mostly use Belmore east to rejoin existing Route 18 at the south end of North Baltimore's Main Street, where "Option 1" also would connect. Land would be taken from 22 parcels to build "Option 4."

Mr. Gramza said that under either alternative, a modern roundabout is planned for the Route 18/Main Street intersection, while two more roundabouts -- one at Belmore and Liberty Hi, the other at Liberty Hi and existing Route 18 (Deshler Road) -- would be built if "Option 4" were chosen.

"For the traffic volumes that we have, roundabouts would be a much more efficient option than intersections with traffic signals," he said.

The cross-country "Option 1" does take slightly more land than its "Option 4" alternative -- 23.8 acres instead of 19.7 acres, and 18 acres of farmland instead of 14.3 -- but also could be built in one construction season instead of two and is better from a traffic perspective as well, the department of transportation administrator said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gramza said, "We won't make a selection until after June 2," and "Option 1" is not a done deal.

Ms. Whitacre said she and her neighbors "are trying to make our voices heard" because the route the transportation department favors is the one "with the most opposition."

Mr. Gramza said a "no-build" option also remains a possibility, although that would leave North Baltimore to cope with a trucking boom expected to develop around the CSX terminal -- a terminal that also is expected to attract warehousing and light industrial businesses to the area.

"We want to enhance economic development any way we can," he said. "This could provide a great benefit to northwest Ohio."

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



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