November 24, 2014

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Kasich’s Turnpike plan could hasten Center Ridge widening, mayor says

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Mayor David Gillock thinks the plan to leverage the Ohio Turnpike to raise money to fix other Ohio roads could mean that Center Ridge Road could be get widened a lot sooner than expected.

“It should help speed the timetable for the project,” Gillock said of the widening of the city’s main east-west artery and one of its most heavily traveled and congested roads. “We hope to get funded next year, and we believe this plan will ensure we’re not delayed any in being funded.”

The city is looking to get up to $2.4 million in funds for the next phase of required work on the widening project, which includes preliminary detail design work and land acquisition.

The project is expected to cost $41.5 million and will widen a 2.3-mile length of the road from Stoney Ridge to Lear-Nagle from three to five lanes.

Because Center Ridge is also designated as U.S. Route 20, the widening project will be overseen by the Ohio Department of Transportation. It is slated to begin in 2016.

ODOT has hired a Mansfield area engineering firm to figure out what would have to be physically moved — such as utility poles, etc. — to accommodate the planned widening.

Last summer, ODOT’s Transportation Advisory Committee voted to approve $1.7 million in state funds for preliminary detail design work. The advisory committee oversees road projects and budgets statewide.

But city officials have been uncertain of the project’s timetable in the wake of the bombshell dropped by state officials last winter that the massive Inner Belt Bridge construction in Cleveland would be pushed back from 2016 to 2023 because of a lack of money and too many projects.

At the time, city officials were worried that the Center Ridge widening could face a long delay despite being among projects recommended for state money by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, a group that weighs and recommends major transportation projects for federal dollars in Lorain, Medina, Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties.

The Center Ridge project has been deemed a top priority for ODOT’s District 3, which takes in eight counties including Lorain County, in part for the high number of accidents.

Between 2007 and 2009, more than 300 vehicle collisions occurred on the 2.3-mile portion of road.

Of the $41.5 million cost of the widening, federal and state money are slated to pay for $28.7 million of the project. The remaining $12.7 million would be paid by the city, most likely through a bond issue or street levy.

Kasich’s Turnpike plan calls for the toll road to remain a state-run operation. Some $1.5 billion will be sold in bonds leveraged against future Turnpike revenues. Those funds would be matched with $1.5 billion in local and federal funds to offset a $1.6 billion highway budget deficit while financing a rebuilding of the 241-mile toll road, as well as other road projects across Ohio.

State officials say the plan would reduce the wait time for completion of postponed Ohio roadwork from 20 years to six.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.