Local officials want to meet and discuss the I-80 causeway, but ODOT's district deputy director said he won't attend.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- The Ohio Department of Transportation is moving forward with a causeway project that a local emergency official calls "a slap in the face" to the Mahoning Valley.
"I don't think ODOT understands they work for us," said Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency. "I don't think ODOT realizes we're the customer."
Duzzny was discussing ODOT's plan to build a $41 million causeway to carry Interstate 80 over the Meander Reservoir. Local emergency officials, including Duzzny, had asked ODOT to construct emergency access roads along the north and south sides of the causeway.
Not included in plans
On Wednesday, Mohamed Darwish, ODOT District 4 deputy director, said final plans for the causeway do not include the emergency access roads.
Instead, the plans call for constructing a 750-foot service road running east from Turner Road along the causeway's south side. The road will end in a cul-de-sac with a gate that provides access to the interstate for emergency vehicles.
"We've gone above and beyond" a typical causeway project, Darwish said. "I think we've done our job."
Local officials said the emergency access roads are needed so they can respond to accidents on the interstate and potential chemical spills in the reservoir, which serves as the water source for about 300,000 Mahoning and Trumbull county residents.
Duzzny said ODOT "pretty much guaranteed us" emergency vehicles would have adequate access to the interstate and the reservoir along the causeway.
In accident situations
Emergency vehicles will be able to access the interstate using the causeway's 12-foot-wide inside shoulder or 10-foot-wide outside shoulder, Darwish said. Traffic can be diverted into the shoulders if an accident occurs, he said.
Austintown Fire Chief Andrew Frost, however, said serious accidents can block all traffic lanes. The emergency access roads are needed when those major accidents occur, he said.
"When you have big wrecks out there, they just go everywhere," Frost said. "We always have problems out there."
Jackson Township Fire Chief Wayne McDougal added, "it gets very hairy. ... It gets tied up real quick."
ODOT plans state that the causeway will include a total of six 12-foot-wide lanes, three for eastbound traffic and three for westbound traffic. Both the north and south sides will be lined by the shoulders, a 22-foot-wide spill container and a 15-foot-wide embankment.
The causeway would replace the twin Interstate 80 bridges, which each have two lanes.
Seeking an explanation
Duzzny said he would like ODOT representatives to meet with local officials to explain why the emergency lanes were not added and to discuss the project. Mahoning County Administrator Gary Kubic and state Rep. Ken Carano of Austintown, D-59th, both said they would attend the meeting.
"The issue is prominent, and always has been prominent because it is our water supply," Kubic said.
Darwish, meanwhile, said he most likely won't be at the meeting.
"We have to move forward," he said. "We can't afford to delay this."
Darwish said the construction of the emergency lanes would have cost an additional $1 million. He added that ODOT still can build the lanes, as long as the construction is funded by local government.
The project is expected to be bid in October 2004.
Both Duzzny and Frost stressed that they felt the lanes should be built when the causeway is constructed, and not added later.
"I don't see them changing this causeway for 100 years," Frost said. "Let's do it right."
Local officials have been working with ODOT to plan the project for the last 10 years. Frost said he was told the plans were complete in a letter from Darwish dated April 18.
The letter states, "although the proposed design is different than what you may have preferred, the district feels that it does significantly improve the current condition faced by the area's emergency agencies."