WELLINGTON — Voters in the village will have another opportunity in November to cast a ballot on the long-anticipated railroad underpass to carry traffic on state Route 58 through the center of town.
A charter amendment has been approved for the ballot that would require another vote on any “significant design changes” for the $21.3 million underpass.
The proposal comes from residents Jim Farago and Rose Barrett, who live on Route 58, also known as Main Street.
It was prepared by attorney Gerald Phillips. Phillips said the goal is to get voter approval because the scope of the project has changed since voters approved it in 2005 and rejected a Maple Street location on the village’s east side.
Village Mayor Barbara O’Keefe and Wellington Fire Chief Mike Wetherbee said they hoped the charter amendment proposal would not further delay the project, which would allow vehicles, including fire trucks and police cars, to go under the tracks when a train is passing by.
“I’m very disappointed,” Wetherbee said. “It’s always a possibility we could be delayed in saving a life — us, or the ambulance or the Police Department or even the Sheriff’s Department.”
That being said, Wetherbee said, “Everybody needs to vote the way they feel.”
Only village residents will vote on the charter amendment. The fire district is 125 square miles and the people in several townships won’t have an opportunity to vote, Wetherbee said.
Neither Farago nor Barrett could be reached for comment. They needed 152 valid signatures on petitions to put the charter amendment before voters and collected 196 valid signatures, according to a representative of the board of elections.
Phillips said their group, called Committee for the Right to Vote, believes there have been significant changes in the project after discovery of an aquifer, and he said voters should have a right to review the latest details.
“The goal is to make sure the decision is a community decision,” Phillips said.
If the charter amendment passes in November, voters would get an opportunity in November 2013 to vote on the design changes, Phillips said.
Wellington Law Director Stephen Bond called the charter amendment “confusing.”
“If the thing were to pass, we’d end up in litigation,” Bond said.
The funds for the on-again, off-again project were approved several months ago by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transportation Review and Advisory Council.
In January, state transportation officials indicated the work might be pushed back to 2018, but it was later deemed a priority.
The underpass is designed to keep traffic moving and to enable emergency vehicles to answer calls much faster by not having to wait for passing trains or take more time to find alternate routes.
Former Wellington Fire Chief Robert Walker, who worked for years on the project, said in January that local drivers contend with an estimated 70 trains a day that come through town and cause traffic delays on the Route 58 tracks just north of state Route 18.
Another proponent of the underpass was Roxann Wesley Blair, who told the state transportation council that her elderly mother and disabled sister, Maxine and Sandra Wesley, died in a house fire in January 2004 after a responding fire truck was held up four to five minutes by a passing train.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or email@example.com.