Congress in Idle while Highway Planners in Gear

BOARDMAN, Ohio -- With a backdrop of where work continues on the U.S. 224 overpass that spans Interstate 680, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown Monday promised to return to Washington, D.C. to work for passage of a bipartisan measure to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

Brown, D-Ohio,  stood with John R. Getchey, director of the Eastgate Council of Governments, and Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, to rally public support for “a bipartisan approach to fixing America’s highways and bridges by passing a long-term transportation bill.”

From after World War II until the 1980s, “U.S. infrastructure was the envy of the world,” the senior senator from Ohio told reporters in the parking lot of TGI Friday’s. Failure to replenish the fund will result in more unsafe bridges, clogged traffic and roads in even greater need of repair.

Until recently, senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle understood the need for well-maintained roads and bridges, Brown said. “This year is different,” he stated, because “the Tea Party questions” the role of the federal government in building, maintaining and improving infrastructure.

The need is great, Brown said, mentioning “more than 2,000 bridges in Ohio that are structurally deficient, 122 in the Mahoning Valley alone. Fixing them is a necessity” and failure to do so will only add to the cost when it comes time to close them for repairs.

He’s willing to see an increase in the 18-cent per gallon tax on gasoline if it’s part of a comprehensive package to ensure the integrity of Highway Trust Fund and Congress enacts “compensating tax breaks for working families,” the senator said.

Brown and Crane chose to hold the press event at the 224/I-680 site because it is the fourth of five projects along the Route 224 corridor from state Route 11 to I-680 that would not be possible without federal funding.

The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to spend $311 million on roads and highways in Mahoning and Trumbull counties over the next four years, $233 million of that sum from the Highway Trust Fund, Getchey said. The Eastgate Council of Governments board looks to direct $38 million of that sum.

A priority is widening Interstate 80 to six lanes from four from I-680 to Belmont Avenue, a $120 million project that includes widening four bridges within that section. The highway trust fund would pay $37 million of that project, ODOT the balance and between 2,000 and 2,400 workmen would be hired.

Between 56,000 and 62,000 vehicles a day travel this section of I-80, 40% of them trucks.

Eastgate and ODOT need assurance well in advance that funding for such projects will be available, Getchey said, if they are to plan for improvements.

Planning for the Route 224 projects began in 2002, the study to determine the scope of what was needed in 2004, says Kathleen Rodi, Eastgate transportation director. It took two years to conduct the study that cost $1 million.

Eastgate determined the intersection at Tippecanoe Road and Lockwood Boulevard needed to be widened to allow more turn lanes and turn signals.

South Avenue intersects, Eastgate determined eastbound traffic on 224 needed two left-turn lanes and a separate right-hand lane were needed in South Avenue.

At Market Street (state Route 7), separate right- turn lanes were added.

Once the overpass and added turn lanes are completed at I-680 I October, Eastgate can turn its attention to Raccoon Road and Route 11. From 1,000 feet east of Raccoon Road, 224 needs a drop-back lane to allow easier access to Route 11, Getchey said, to raise the overpass that spans 11, to add left- and right-turn lanes north and south of Raccoon and upgrade all the signal lights. Total cost, $7.9 million.

Before ODOT commits to a project, it encumbers all the funds needed, Rodi said afterward. This means that the work at the I-680 overpass will be completed and paid for regardless of whether Congress passes the comprehensive bipartisan measure Brown seeks.

Not so the work at Raccoon Road and Route 11. ODOT wants federal assurance it can rely on U.S. Department of Transportation to pay its share. The Raccoon Road-Route 11-U.S. 224 project is “benchmarked but not encumbered,” Rodi explained.

Crane spoke to the payrolls generated by the transportation construction work and skilled tradesmen and their families supporting the economy. At the 224 overpass at I-680, between 70 and 75 skilled tradesmen have worked on the project, Crane said. Among them, pile drivers, operating engineers, electricians, laborers and carpenters.

In a telephone interview, Jerry Bailey, project manager at the general contractor, A.P. O’Horo Construction Co., Liberty, noted the employees at the concrete plants and drivers who deliver the concrete to the site should be included as well as should the asphalt plants and drivers and steelworkers who produce the rebar. Total project payroll, which include the supervisors, should be in the neighborhood of $2 million, he estimates.

Pictured: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, John R. Getchey, director of the Eastgate Council of Governments, and Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, prepare to meet reporters at Monday's press event.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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