Repairs planned for railroad bridge in Canal Winchester

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

A half-million dollar grant, along with matching and additional funding, is leading to repairs to a railroad bridge over West Waterloo Street in Canal Winchester, but it does not include money to beautify the structure as hoped for by resident Joe Hanna.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) is administering the grant, part of a projected $2.8 million for work on a rail line running from Columbus to Logan to allow the line to haul heavier rail cars.

“The bridge is not a part of our grant, but repairing it was a stipulation of receiving our funding,” said Julianne Kaercher, executive assistant to the ORDC public information director. “All work on the bridge will be paid for by the railroad.  The railroad will not likely pay for beautification. The $500,000 is to match what the railroad puts in, 50/50. All of our grant funds must be matched with private or additional investment…the railroad had to address the concerns the community has with the bridge over Waterloo Street in Canal Winchester. They were to address this first and it is our understanding the structure is under contract to be repaired—remove loose concrete—to prevent future unsafe situations for the public travelling below it.”

Canal Winchester Development Director Lucas Haire said the grant is for safety improvements and will not address the aesthetics of the railroad bridge. He said the bridge might actually look less attractive when the railroad finishes their project.

“The city of Canal Winchester sought quotes to repaint portions of the bridge, but found it was not economically feasible. We have not further pursued this matter,” said Haire in discussing the city’s expense of thousands of dollars to repaint the bridge according to federal standards.

Hanna started a campaign to renovate the bridge in 2011. He called the structure an eyesore with structural issues, including: falling concrete, pipes leaking onto the sidewalk and Waterloo Street, water freezing on the surfaces and lead paint flaking off and washing into Walnut Creek.
Hanna said his group had verbal approval from the Indiana & Ohio Railroad to paint the bridge, but during a pre-survey incident, Hanna slipped and his feet were left hanging and visible to oncoming traffic. An alarmed motorist called the fire department.

“Evidently that call went out that a man had hung himself, which caused three different fire departments to respond, along with a least three sheriffs, plus a TV station that showed footage on the six o’clock news that evening,” said Hanna who was safely tethered to a harness and had experience working aloft. “The fire chief, mayor and the development director, along with other officials, were there, too.”

Hanna contacted State Representative Heather Bishoff’s office to ask for guidance and help in getting the bridge repaired.

“She was successful in helping the new owners, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad, in getting a federal grant to improve the Columbus to Logan line. Bishoff was the lead on getting them to fix the structural defects, but wasn’t able to get the bridge painted,” said Hanna. “Most railroads consider painting a bridge just for aesthetics and as an expense that can be avoided.”

According to Hanna, the biggest stumbling block in renovating the bridge is red tape between the railroad and the city. He said the new railroad owners are considering the project and company representatives were helpful in providing specifications and requirements. To complete the project, Hanna needs the go-ahead from the railroad and a permit from the city.

“We have seven to 10 volunteers ready to provide labor, equipment, material, work area protection, administration duties and advice,” said Hanna. “This is a non-profit project. No liability to the railroad or the city. We will provide the labor, equipment, and paint. We would not be sand blasting. This is looked upon as a private citizen working on private property. Each volunteer has individual liability insurance and assumes responsibility for their safety. Work area protection will ensure the public’s safety, just like when we have a fair, jazz festival, parade, etc. My question is, in this time of cost cutting, what is wrong with doing a little clean up that won’t create any expense?”

The Indiana and Ohio Railroad purchased the 43 mile long Columbus to Logan Line from CSX in the mid-1980s. The company was originally a small family of railroads headquartered in Cincinnati. In 1996, I & O was acquired by RailTex which  sold its entire short line portfolio to RailAmerica in 2000. In late 2012, RailAmerica was purchased in its entirety by the Genesee and Wyoming, Inc. The I & O remains an independent short line railroad within G & W.

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