When Ron Phillips was looking for a house nearly 20 years ago, he found one he liked just off Hilliard-Rome Road on the far Westside of Columbus.
It was across the road from a steel company. He found it convenient to walk to his job when he worked at that steel company. Convenient, but not always safe.
“The speed limit is a joke,” he said, recalling one time when he looked both ways and couldn’t see any oncoming cars, started crossing the road and almost got hit.
Motorists “laugh at the speed limit,” he said.
Safety isn’t the only thing on Phillips’ mind these days. Traffic has increased substantially with the development and expansion up the road in Hilliard and the construction of apartments on the other side of him. And then there are the railroad tracks within feet of his house.
Long trains, frequent trains, and trains that stop and block the crossing. All create long lines of cars on either side of the tracks.
Phillips wants to know why there can’t be an overpass to better handle traffic - an overpass either on Hilliard-Rome Road or a little further west on Galloway Road north of West Broad Street.
He said he remembers some 13 years ago when the Winchester Apartments south of him were built and there was talk then about an overpass. He wonders what happened to those plans.
Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker confirms there was a plan “several years ago” where the city of Columbus and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission were going to realign Galloway Road and create an overpass and replace Hilliard-Rome Road.
“That has fallen off, probably because of funding issues,” Hatmaker said.
Getting an overpass on the road is easier said than done, according to Rick Tilton, public information officer for the Public Service office for the City of Columbus.
The first problem is jurisdictional. He found that the land in question lies in three jurisdictions - some in the city of Columbus, some in Prairie Township and some in Franklin County.
Hatmaker agreed that several jurisdictions are involved. Where Tilton separates township and county Hatmaker considers the township and county as one.
“The crossing belongs to the City of Columbus,” he said of the crossings on both Hilliard-Rome Road and on Galloway Road. “If you stand on the tracks and look either way, you see township land, but the crossing has been annexed to Columbus.”
Even today, an overpass is not on the city’s radar.
“We have not studied it yet, and we don’t have money to do a study right now,” Tilton said. “We have a long list of capital projects we would like to do, that we have studied, but don’t have the money.
“There are a lot of projects we would like to do, but there are no plans to do it (overpass on Hilliard-Rome Road),” he added. “You’d need an engineering study and then have to deal with multi-jurisdictional issues. There is a lot to be done and no money and no plans right now.”
The city went through a fiscal crisis earlier this year, precipitated by the falling economy. Large numbers of layoffs meant less money in city offers.
In August, voters approved a one-half percent increase in the city income tax that staved off further job losses, but still a lot of projects stayed on shelves and some cuts were not restored.
Meanwhile the traffic keeps coming. The trains keep rolling, sounding whistles all hours of the day and night, interrupting peaceful sleeping opportunities, while the residents grumble about traffic tie-ups at the crossing.
Hatmaker says the avenue to take if complaining about the operations of the railroad is the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Tilton says he hasn’t heard any complaints in his office.
The need for an overpass is a topic that has often been brought up at the Westland Area Commission, a liaison group to the City of Columbus.
The next WAC meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the lower level meeting room at Doctors Hospital. This meeting is open to the public.