State officials have unveiled six options to either relocate State Rts. 64 and 65 around a bank of the Maumee River they say is slowly collapsing or shore up the embankment, but nearby property owners maintain the problem is exaggerated and the seven-figure expense is unnecessary.
The Ohio Department of Transportation’s alternatives range in estimated cost from $2,067,000 to shift Route 64 — and part of Route 65 — on a broad arc across open farmland and behind a house landowner George Thompson rents out, to $3,049,000 to build a roadside retaining wall.
Two alignments were shown for a new Route 64 in Middleton Township during an open-house meeting Thursday at the Waterville branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, with Route 65 (River Road) and Reitz Road crossing at either a traditional intersection or a roundabout.
ODOT also showed three options to handle another slumping riverbank several miles to the south in Grand Rapids Township along Route 65 near Nazareth Hall — two involving only retaining walls, but one requiring removal of a 181-year-old house that was moved there in 1902, according to its owner.
In both cases, according to the transportation department and its consultants, weak subsurface soil and erosion of a steeply sloping riverbank is causing the slope to collapse slowly. Cracks in the pavement or the earth next to the shoulder, bulges and terraces on the slopes, and leaning trees and utility poles all are signs of the slow-motion landslide, they say.
Close to 100 people attended the ODOT session, although state officials said as many as half turned out expecting discussion about plans to replace the nearby Waterville Bridge. A public meeting about that project is planned for next spring.
By far the more controversial road-relocation site among the remaining meeting-goers was the one near Reitz Road, where as many as three homes could be condemned if Route 64 is moved.
Approximately 15 landowners from that area have rallied behind Mr. Thompson, who asserts that the road’s problems have more to do with poor drainage maintenance within the right-of-way than anything related to the riverbank.
“I don’t like it a bit,” said Jason Golba, whose home is in the path of all four road-relocation options ODOT presented. “It’s kind of hard to find any kind of silver lining when your home’s being taken.”
“It’s not necessary,” said Gordon Wenig, who lives a few miles away near Haskins, Ohio, but still farms on property his mother owns that is potentially affected by the work. “If anything, build one of the two walls and fix the problem, not relocate it and disturb 40 acres of farmland and two houses.”
Mr. Thompson disputed whether pictures on ODOT handout materials of trees with split trunks or odd angles were taken at the site — a state consultant confirmed they were — while neighbor Carl Hudecek said the split trunks were caused not by moving earth but by wind action on ash trees that were already dead, while trees naturally assume odd angles over time when growing on slopes.
“That roundabout thing is the biggest joke,” Mr. Thompson added, arguing that along with a trumped-up assessment of soil conditions, ODOT’s traffic count for the highway is exaggerated.
By contrast, E. Dorinda Shelley, owner since 1989 of the Howard House along Route 65 just west of Weston Road, does not dispute the state’s evaluation of the slope across the highway from her home, but believes condemnation would be a mistake for the structure that, in its original spot in what is now downtown Grand Rapids, was a pioneer homestead, Underground Railroad way station, and local post office.
“It’s one of the most historic houses in all of Wood County,” Ms. Shelley said, noting that at the very least, a temporary road needed to build retaining walls there would require removing a brick wall and century-old trees from the house’s front yard.
But the need for slope stabilization, she said, “is something that I guess we’ve known for a long time could happen,” based on crooked trees and utility poles.
ODOT’s listing of project alternatives listed no preferences. Todd Audet, the department’s deputy director at the Bowling Green district office, said officials plan to identify preferred alternatives late next month, after reviewing public comments.
ODOT expects to start work at both sites in 2015. Asked if that schedule could be affected by any landowner lawsuits, Mr. Audet said work would proceed anyway if dictated by safety.
“If the road’s in immediate jeopardy, we’re going to go ahead and mitigate it,” he said. “We have to keep the road open.”
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