August 23, 2014

Elyria
Sunny
82°F
test

Wellington couple bypassed by underpass

WELLINGTON — Dawn and Mike Ridenour think their house looks like it survived some terrible force of nature.

Monday, bulldozers took down surrounding homes, garages, swimming pools and trees to make way for a $21.3 million railroad underpass on state Route 58.

“It literally looks like a tornado hit my neighborhood,” Dawn Ridenour said.

If that isn’t bad enough, she said trains continue rumbling past her kitchen window with nothing to cut down on the noise.

The Ohio Department of Transportation spent millions to purchase nearby properties to clear the way for the underpass but did not buy the Ridenour’s house at 118 Clay St. ODOT spokeswoman Christine Myers said the department’s hands could be tied regarding the Ridenour property.

“We are required by law to buy only the properties we need for the project,” Myers said.

The Ridenours, who have health problems, are hoping that ODOT will reverse itself. Their house is in a construction zone, and it will remain so for some time until the project is completed in September 2014.

Mike Ridenour, a 46-year-old truck driver, worries that the stress will cause Dawn’s epilepsy to flare up, causing dangerous blackouts. In turn, Dawn, a 40-year-old health care aide, worries that everything will take a toll on her husband’s heart.

Mike Ridenour said ODOT offered $300 for use of a corner of his property for three years — an offer so low that he didn’t bother to respond.

The couple has asked Wellington Mayor Barb O’Keefe to intervene. The mayor said ODOT contends the property was not needed, but she will look into the matter.

“It wasn’t my call, (but) things can change,” O’Keefe said.

ODOT spent $3.9 million to purchase right-of-way for the underpass, which has been planned for more than 15 years.

A number of residents fought the seizure of their homes for the right-of-way, but not the Ridenours. They agree with village officials that the underpass is needed for safety reasons.

“A lot of people think we’re fighting it and we’re the complete opposite,” Dawn Ridenour said.

She works nights and the constant noise is taking a toll, she said.

“They start warming up the bulldozers before 7 (a.m.) and begin work at 7:15, and they leave at 5:15 (p.m.),” she said.

Noise, stress and lack of sleep are among the triggers for epileptic seizures, according to Ken Lowenberg of the Epilepsy Foundation.

“Stress is a huge trigger for epilepsy,” he said.

The underpass endured hurdles ranging from ballot issues attempting to block or delay it to an announced six-year delay because of state budget woes.

Voters backed the project by soundly rejecting ballot issues brought by opponents in 2005 that would have moved the underpass from Route 58 — known in town as Main Street — to Maple Street, and rescinded a local ordinance calling for the village to contribute up to 5 percent of the total cost of the underpass.

Residents also rejected a third ballot issue in November that sought to enact a charter amendment requiring a public vote on design changes to plans for the underpass.

After first being on ODOT’s list of approved projects, the underpass was shoved back from 2013 to 2019 because of a lack of money, but it was returned to this year’s schedule after ODOT put about $400 million back into state transportation projects as a result of workforce reductions, higher-than-anticipated gas tax receipts and other budget-cutting steps such as trimming the department’s fleet of vehicles, ODOT officials said.

Beaver Excavating Co., a Canton firm, won the $12.3 million bid to construct the underpass.

Meanwhile, Wellington Police Chief Steve Rollins said he thinks the underpass will save lives and quicken response times.

“We won’t be held up by trains anymore,” Rollins said.

When completed, he said there should be room for emergency vehicles to use the underpass even if regular traffic is backed up during rush hour when Main Street is busy.

“We’re getting a lot of double trains, (but) if everyone moves over, we’ll be able to get through,” Rollins said.

The train delays proved tragic in 2004 when an elderly Wellington-area woman and her disabled daughter perished in a house fire after a fire truck trying to reach them was delayed for several minutes by a passing train.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.