Nearly 20 years ago, a Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments committee recommended building an underpass at the McCord Road railroad crossing in Holland, just north of Springfield High School.
On Friday morning, dignitaries officially started the project, which Lucas County Engineer Keith Earley said is almost surely the most expensive ever undertaken on a Lucas County road, with a groundbreaking ceremony.
“It’s important to everybody who lives and works in this area,” said Mr. Earley, whose remarks about the project were delayed briefly by horn-blowing from a passing Norfolk Southern train.
The scores of trains that pass through Holland each day block the crossing for an aggregate of nearly five hours per day, the county engineer said, and federal forecasts call for train traffic to double within the next five years.
“We will look back in five years and see how much this project was needed,” Mr. Earley said.
Beaver Excavating of Canton is to be paid $23.4 million to build the underpass, which will start with construction of shoo-flies — temporary bypasses for both McCord and the railroad tracks — and include relocation of a major county sewer line and construction of a modern roundabout at McCord’s intersection with Hall Street and North Mall Drive. Work is expected to be completed in 2016.
Beaver should start moving equipment onto the site next week, said Theresa Pollick, an ODOT spokesman. But state officials said most of this year’s work will be the shoo-fly construction, so traffic impacts will be minimal until spring.
ODOT will hold a meeting for residents and merchants Monday to explain how the project will proceed. The meeting at The Lodge at Strawberry Acres, 950 S. McCord, will start at 1 p.m.
More than 80 trains and, according to the most recent traffic count from 2011, about 17,550 cars, buses, and trucks use the crossing each day.
Toledo Edison already has completed relocation of power lines and poles at the site, which the company said involved stringing nearly a mile of new wire above and below ground and replacing 23 existing poles with 11 new ones.
The project’s total cost, including design and land acquisition, has been pegged at $36.5 million, with a budget funded from eight county, state, federal, and other sources — including $1 million from the railroad.
It’s a budget that, at times, had seemingly hopeless shortfalls.
Then-Ohio Gov. Bob Taft included McCord on a list of projects to be funded from a $200 million state program he announced in 2000 to address problem grade crossings, but the $8.5 million allocated from that fund was never enough.
Funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s “major-new” budget was promised, withdrawn, and then provided again. And when bids finally came in, Lucas County had to come up with an additional $2.5 million when Beaver’s low bid was 21 percent higher than ODOT’s official estimate.
“We’d get some money, we’d go forward, and we’d have some setbacks,” said Mr. Earley, one of several speakers who noted the multi-agency effort needed to get the project going.
A McCord underpass was the January, 1995, recommendation of a TMACOG study group that examined the rail corridor from South Toledo out through Holland to Swanton starting the previous June.
Among four crossings studied, “McCord has the highest traffic volume,” the study team noted. “It was judged to be a very effective location to improve emergency services, serve the greatest number of school-related traffic, and improve community safety.”
Among the TMACOG study group’s members was Fred Dais, then principal at Springfield High.
While trains blocking McCord sometimes made buses late, Mr. Dais said at the time his biggest fear was that students climbing through stopped trains to get to school might be maimed or killed if such a train started moving or they stepped out in front of a moving train on the other track.
That fear became reality nearly 15 years later, on Dec. 16, 2009, when two Springfield students unsuccessfully tried to run across the tracks in front of an Amtrak passenger train. The train killed Cody Brown, 15, and seriously injured Brianna Mullinger, 16.
“For me, it [the project] is about safety,” Michael O’Shea, the Springfield superintendent of schools, said during the groundbreaking Friday. “I was out at the tracks that day in 2009. That tragedy is forever etched in my mind.”
Construction will cause some inconveniences, and probably “a lot of teachable moments,” but the project is “an investment that will pay dividends for years to come,” the superintendent said.
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.