Safety access lanes are sought
The fire chief says the meeting left him hopeful the emergency lanes would be built.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- State Sen. Bob Hagan doesn't want emergency access lanes to an Interstate 80 causeway project to end up dead in the water.
He plans to look for $820,000 to pay for them.
The emergency lanes are not part of the Ohio Department of Transportation's plans for the $53 million causeway over the Meander Reservoir, the drinking water source for 300,000 people.
Hagan, of Youngstown, D-32nd, said the money for the emergency lanes could come from homeland defense funds.
Local emergency and government officials met with state legislators and ODOT representatives Friday to discuss the project. Emergency officials have said the access roads are needed so they can respond to accidents on the interstate and potential chemical spills in the reservoir.
"It doesn't make sense unless it has the safety precautions to protect us," Hagan stressed.
Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management agency, said $820,000 is, "a drop in the bucket to make [the causeway] the safest we can possibly make it."
An April 18 letter from Mohamed Darwish, ODOT District 4 deputy director, to Austintown Fire Chief Andrew Frost states that the final design of the causeway does not include the emergency lanes.
Darwish added the lanes would be built, "if the township is willing to fund the work."
"If they find a way to fund it, we'll find a way to build it," said William Murphy, an ODOT transportation planning and programs administrator who attended Friday's meeting.
Frost said he left Friday's meeting hopeful that the emergency lanes would be built. He added that he was pleased with the positive atmosphere at the meeting.
Hagan asked local officials to create a written plan and cost estimate for the lanes to be used to try to find funds for the project.
Frost is planning to meet with Duzzny and other local emergency officials Monday to start work on the proposal.
After the money is located, Hagan and state Reps. Ken Carano, of Austintown, D-59th, and Sylvester Patton, of Youngstown, D-60th, would write a letter to ODOT asking that the department obtain the funds, Hagan said. Patton and Carano also attended Friday's meeting.
The causeway is to have three 12-foot-wide lanes in each direction, lined by 22-foot-wide shoulders, a 22-foot-wide spill container and a 15-foot-wide embankment.
It will replace the twin bridges of two lanes in each direction. Statistics from the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments show that an estimated 45,840 vehicles cross the bridges each day. Thirty percent of those are trucks.
The causeway project is expected to be put out for bids in October 2004.