Last week in the City Council Committee meeting, the City Engineer provided an update on the status of the Crain Avenue bridge replacement project that I thought was worth noting on the blog since by the time it’s all said and done, it will be the largest bridge replacement ever undertaken in Kent and all of Portage County for that matter.
If you saw the September 11th posting on the ratings of the bridge conditions in Kent, you would have seen that the current Crain Avenue bridge is rated in “Critical” condition which means it is under close watch and it needs to be replaced.
Although it was before my time in Kent, I understand that the original plan was to replace the current bridge with a new one that was essentially the same size and followed the same road alignment as the existing bridge. However, as the community thought about it, I was told that there was a desire to not just replace the bridge but to replace a bridge and improve traffic flow — which in this case meant easing congestion at the offset intersection of SR43, Fairchild, and Crain Avenue.
That desire led to a new context sensitive planning exercise that engaged the community to work with the staff engineers to come up with a way to build a new bridge that improved traffic flow on the arterial streets while simultaneously discouraging cut-thru traffic on the residential streets — particularly along Crain Avenue. In addition, there was a desire to encourage more bicycle and pedestrian activity along the new bridge.
From this process, a new bridge emerged that would extend across the river where Fairchild intersects with 43 that angled the traffic down Water Street (rather than Crain) on the other side. Using that template the engineers have been doing what engineers do — calculating the turning radious, deriving points of tangents in the road segments, engineering load strengths, etc. In other words, translating that template into blueprints for construction.
The City Engineer reported last week that the construction documents are still a work in progress. That’s not surprising as a project of this size has an enormous number of contingencies that all have to be evaluated and designed to work independently and in conjunction with all the other contingencies — and frankly those contingencies are often changing, even after the shovels hit the dirt, so it’s like hitting a moving target. Engineering is hard science, but there’s truly an art to pulling all the pieces together — and like great art it’s more of an iterative process that relies on getting across the river one step at a time.
That being said, there’s enough of the design work completed to know the basic parameters of the project and with the environmental assessment phase wrapping-up, ODOT has given Kent the green light to begin the Right-of-Way phase. That means that the Feds (who are funding the majority of the project) have told ODOT to tell us that they feel that they know enough about the project at this stage to know which properties will be affected by relocating the new bridge (you also have to throw in the County since technically this is their bridge) so it’s time for someone to start contacting the property owners to talk about property aquisition and relocation.
As you might imagine, property relocation tends to be one of the more controversial and least favorite parts of a project like this, so I guess we drew the short straw since the City has been asked to serve as the lead agency in right of way acquisition. Although the City is assigned the lead role, the Feds and ODOT are writing the checks and they have fairly strict limitations on what they will, or won’t pay for, so the City has to work within those when trying to negotiate deals.
On the one hand, it’s good to have the City in the lead because historically cities are more sensitive to the local property owner needs, but on the downside, when property owners want more than the Feds/ODOT are willing to pay, the City is the one that is stuck having to use the court process to reach a settlement.
The City Engineer advised Council that there were a few environmental issues found in the exploratory phase which will have to be attended to on some of the properties, but other than those issues, it’s time to begin to work with the property owners on purchasing their property and relocating them.
The right of way phase could take 6-12 months depending upon how smooth the process goes. Meanwhile the engineering design work will continue for the bridge with an estimated (still very estimated) bid date of the end of 2008 with construction beginning in 2009.
The construction will be phased such that the new bridge is built first (circa 2010) on the new alignment and then when traffic is diverted to the new bridge, the old bridge will be removed (circa 2011). The itent is to minimize the traffic impacts during construction as much as possible, but no matter how hard they try, a project of this size will definitely cause delays.
I’ll keep you posted as things move forward.