A Few Minutes With NCRC Manager Kelly Smith
Since its closing during the summer of 2016 the Colonial ave bridge has received more attention from the public than normal. While it has always been an interesting landmark for the area, closing it made it an even more interesting topic of discussion.
What most do not know is, we have been working on replacing this structure for 7 years.
Yes, I know what you are thinking here’s another example of “government at its best”.
As manager of the Road Commission, everything that has less than the desired outcome here is going to land on my lap. It comes with job title. And here is where I came up short. I assumed this would be an easy task. After all, here we have a bridge constructed in the early 1900’s that has certainly lived well past it’s intended life cycle and served the area quite well, but it is time for an upgrade. The typical process would be to submit the structure to the local bridge program for funding ( both state and federal dollars) where it is graded on a point system with those that rank highest being funded. Of course the program has a budget so not all the needed structures can be funded.
There has been a lot of questions regarding the length of time that has elapsed since the bridge was closed so I thought a brief synopsis of the events to date might help shed a bit of light
First and foremost, the bridge was not ours. It was constructed in the mid 1920’s by Pere Marquette Railway and maintained by them or the RxR company that owned that stretch of rail until around 2009. At that time the rail was leased to another company and we were informed that they would no longer maintain it as they didn’t own it.
Of course this got our attention after much discussion we came to the conclusion that a plan of replacement must be set in motion. Oh, and before you ask, yes, we considered other options which included a ground level crossing as well as just having the road end on each side. The decision was made to have a bridge constructed, and that leads us back to the “normal” process.
First task, funding. If the RxR does not want to own the bridge they certainly do not want to fund its replacement. So in order for us to get it funded we must own it which sounds easy right? Well it has not been.
Now let me preface this with stating I am in no way wanting to paint the folks at the rail division in a negative way.Like any organization they have their policies and procedures for a reason. However, that being said, it has been an agonizing and painful experience to see a much needed resolution to a glaring issue take so long. After all, we are agreeing to take on a structure that really should be their legacy and we are willing to take that legacy on and work to get it funded in order to follow through with a replacement structure that will serve the area in a much better capacity.
Fast forward a couple years. Now we have acquired the structure and it is time to get it funded. There is a 3 year gap from bridge submittal, to its acceptance for funding, to it being let out for bid for the selection of a contractor. That all has happened except the letting for bid portion and had that happened we were hoping for a 2017 letting and a late 2017 -2018 construction. That gets us to today and back to the “what’s taking so long?” question.
If you remember the RxR denied ownership of the structure. Well, they were also unwilling to grant us ownership at first. Some of you may see where this is leading, after all how can they grant us ownership if they deny owning it? You cannot give away what you do not own and we cannot get it funded unless we own it. It took countless correspondence, phone calls, emails and letters to get that issue resolved to a point where those having oversight on the funding were comfortable enough to allow the funding to move forward.
Ok, so finally we are ready to get this project out for bid, but nope. It appears as though the RxR has no record of us having R-O-W (right of way) for a bridge we supposedly owned, so how can that be? They didn’t own the bridge, and since we didn’t have R-O-W we must not have owned it either? At this point we see no reason to argue the point, we would just like to apply for R-O-W.
So, where are we now? We have submitted an application for R-O-W for the structure and await it being granted and we are cautiously optimistic that is the final piece of the puzzle before going out for bid and I am hopeful that by the end of 2018 we will have a new structure in place.
If not I may have to stage a hunger strike, God knows I could stand to lose a few holiday pounds.
Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ashland Township for their financial support of the project as it would not be possible without it. As well as the patient customers that are having to drive a little further while we work through this process. We will work to keep you updated on the project’s status as we move forward and as always, Please Be Safe in your travels.
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