State should act quickly on revised bridge plans

Two years ago, when bureaucrats in Washington were yammering about the historical value of the Marshall Street bridge in downtown Youngstown and how it should be rehabilitated instead of replaced, we invited them to come to town and stand on or under the structure. They didn't take us up on our invitation -- and now we know why. Unusual vibrations at the west end of the 70-year-old span that has been held together with rust forced the city of Youngstown to close the structure to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
The bridge has been a safety hazard and an eyesore for many, many years, but officials of the Federal Highway Administration and the Ohio Department of Transportation contended that its uniqueness in design and construction made tearing it down problematic. Of course, they weren't around to watch the bridge -- it connects Oak Hill Avenue to Front Street and downtown -- bounce as cars went over it. And they certainly weren't on hand to see chunks of concrete and steel shake loose during rush hour.
Today, the green truss bridge stands as a stark reminder of how government often times is blind to reality. But there is cause for some optimism. We refrain from using the word "celebration" because there's no telling what next month or next year may bring from Washington or Columbus.
Funding in place
For now, however, the federal and state governments have committed $3 million for a new bridge and there is talk that the project could be completed in a year. That's the good news, such as it is.
As for the bad? While the debate over the historic value of the Marshall Street bridge raged, the state of Ohio changed its engineering standards for such structures, which rendered the city's plans for a new structure unworkable. Thus, new plans will have to be drawn. The city expects to have those completed within six months, after which the state will review them.
If the plans are approved, construction would take another six months. But that's a big "if." Who knows what some pencil-pusher in Columbus may cook up.
That uncertainty has prompted Carmen Conglose Jr., the city's deputy director of Public Works, to explore the possibility of repairs being done to the bridge so a part of it can be used while the state decides whether the revised plans for a new span are acceptable. Repairs will cost money and given the city of Youngstown's fiscal crisis, we believe the state and federal governments should pick up the tab. Why? Because their intransigence caused the project to be stalled in 1997. The city should not be penalized for the misdeeds of faceless bureaucrats in Washington and Columbus.
We urge Gov. Bob Taft, who is well aware of the efforts being made to revitalize Youngstown's central business district, to write a letter to the Federal Highway Administration and the Ohio Department of Transportation to let them know that he expects the project to be put on a fast track.

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