State Sen. Bob Hagan is seeking federal funds to pay for some of the I-80 causeway work.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Township Fire Chief Andrew Frost says he'll take his case to the people if the Ohio Department of Transportation refuses to add emergency access lanes to a Meander Reservoir causeway project.
"I'll go to the 300,000 people and ask them what they think," Frost said, adding that he'll seek "help with the struggle."
There are 300,000 people who use water from the reservoir.
Frost and other emergency officials maintain that access lanes are needed so they can respond to accidents on the interstate and potential chemical spills in the reservoir. They're planning to present four proposals to ODOT representatives at a meeting Thursday, calling for the construction of access lanes on the causeway.
Frost said if ODOT isn't willing to pay for the access lanes, he'll write letters to local residents asking them to pressure state officials into funding the work.
"If these are our tax dollars, then we want to spend it our way," said Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency.
The state's plans
ODOT's plans for the $53 million causeway call for the construction of a 750-foot service road running east from North Turner Road along the causeway's south side. The road will end in a cul-de-sac with a gate that would provide emergency vehicles with access to the interstate.
Emergency officials are worried that a major accident could block access to the interstate from the causeway. They had asked ODOT to build emergency access lanes along the north and south sides of the causeway. The lanes were to connect under the causeway bridge.
"We need to be able to address anything that happens with that water supply," Frost said.
Frost said that Jackson Township has jurisdiction for half the bridge and that North Jackson Fire Chief Wayne McDougal has attended meetings about ODOT's plans.
"We get the majority of the wrecks on our side, but [McDougal] has big concerns, too," Frost said. "There's going to be a big battle."
ODOT officials, however, said they couldn't build the lanes unless local officials paid for the work.
"This is an extremely expensive project right now," said William Murphy, ODOT planning administrator. He added that ODOT's position on the lanes hasn't changed since he and other department representatives discussed the project with local officials at a meeting May 4.
Yet Murphy also stressed that ODOT officials want to hear about the four proposals.
"We want to cooperate with them as much as we can," he said.
Frost said he thinks ODOT officials will realize that the lanes are needed.
"I feel very confident they're going to be sensible and do what they can to make this work," he said.
One local resident, state Sen. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, already has written a letter to the governor seeking funds for the access lanes. In the letter, dated May 15, Hagan told Gov. Bob Taft that he thinks "we have an opportunity to protect the Meander Reservoir from potential harm."
Hagan, D-32nd, asked Taft to use some of the state's money from the federal bioterrorism fund to pay for the access lanes.
Frost added that he knows construction of the lanes that connect under the bridge could be expensive. He added that he thinks ODOT could build the lanes described in one of the other three proposals and please local officials.
The proposal that "makes the most sense," according to Frost, calls for the construction of cul-de-sacs along the north and south sides of the causeway. A gate would connect each of the cul-de-sacs to the interstate. The proposal also calls for the installation of two gates in the interstate's median, giving emergency vehicles access to both the east- and westbound lanes.
No cost estimates have been created for the proposals. The causeway project is slated to be bid in October 2004.
ODOT's plans state that the causeway will include 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.