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Sumner Street bridge removal would affect pedestrians

Norfolk Southern wants to raze it

Michelle Querback and her grandson Christopher Lanting ambled across the Sumner Street bridge over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on a recent afternoon in search of aluminum cans to recycle.

They didn’t have to worry about vehicular traffic because cars and trucks haven’t used the bridge since the 1960s, when Sumner was cut off to the south by I-75 construction and to the north by the lowering of Emerald Avenue to fit under the new freeway.

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Michelle Querback of South Toledo and her grandson, Christopher Lanting, walk across the Sumner Street bridge over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

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But since then, the truss-design structure has remained as a footbridge linking South End neighborhoods south of the tracks with the area around Toledo’s train station and the south end of the Warehouse District to the north. Bushes have sprung up over the years from gaps in its pavement, and litter suggests squatters occasionally camp beneath it.

“We cross it once in awhile — it’s a shortcut,” said Ms. Querback, who lives on Sumner south of the freeway. “It’s kind of a pretty neat bridge, really.”

Sometime soon, however, they and others who use the old bridge likely will have to find another way across the tracks, because Norfolk Southern wants to tear it down.

Janet Schroeder, a city spokesman, said Toledo officials received a verbal inquiry early this year from the railroad about removing the span, which belongs to the city, at the railroad’s expense.

As of late last week, however, no formal written request had been received, she said.

“The process is that once we would receive a request, we would proceed with legislation before granting permission to tear it down,” the spokesman said.

Jonathan Glass, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, said the railroad “plans to remove the bridge in mid-July” but “will confirm that we have the city’s formal permission before we proceed to remove the structure.”

Its removal, he said, “will enhance rail safety by removing clearance restrictions for double-stack trains that operate through that location and enhance NS’ ability to perform track maintenance.”

In internal memos discussing the informal request, Scott Sibley, the city’s administrator of utility engineering, said removing the Sumner bridge “really does limit pedestrian access to this neighborhood,” referring to a small cluster of homes south of the tracks and east of I-75. He noted a pedestrian tunnel beneath the freeway at Eastern Avenue leading to the same neighborhood already is closed, and it’s to be removed in a few years when the Ohio Department of Transportation rebuilds I-75 there.

But Gary Stookey, a senior engineer with the city’s transportation division, said the bridge removal’s impact would be mitigated if the city were “to make sure the alternate routes to get across are in good shape and continuous.”

The alternate route, Mr. Stookey acknowledged in an interview, is Broadway’s bridge over the tracks — a short distance away by car, but adding a quarter-mile or more to the walking distance.

“I don’t see it as terrible,” Mr. Stookey said. A sidewalk from Segur Avenue that leads to the bridge “is kind of overgrown and in an out-of-sight area,” he said.

Ms. Querback said using Broadway, with its sidewalks edging right up against a busy street, won’t be as safe as crossing the tracks on the Sumner bridge.

“All it takes is one drunk to wipe you out,” she said before adding that the Sumner bridge also is a popular spot for neighborhood residents to watch Toledo’s Fourth of July fireworks above the nearby Maumee River.

“People are going to walk across the railroad tracks instead” if the Sumner bridge comes down, Ms. Querback predicted.

“This is my easy way to get home on my shortcut,” said Tom Hay, another neighborhood resident who had crossed the bridge earlier the same afternoon, carrying a plastic grocery bag.

“I see the trains go underneath this all the time,” he said. “There’s enough clearance.”

Norfolk Southern container and auto-carrier trains with 20 foot, 2 inch heights — the standard for North American railroads — now pass under the bridge, but the clearance is tight. Mr. Glass declined to elaborate on that aspect of the bridge’s removal.

Mr. Stookey said that along with removing the bridge at its own expense, the city would want Norfolk Southern to remove the sidewalks leading up to it.

The Sumner bridge would not be the first that Norfolk Southern has torn down in the same general area in recent years.

Three years ago, it razed the old Curtis Street bridge over the same railroad line — another bridge that had been closed to vehicles for years but remained in place for pedestrians.

That bridge was just west of the Anthony Wayne Trail, leading those who used it to begin walking along the Trail between Western and City Point avenues even though, until a planned footpath is built, pedestrians are officially prohibited along the Trail there.

The railroad also tore down three nearby unused bridges along a former railroad track paralleling the Anthony Wayne Trail, including one above Collingwood Boulevard.

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

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