Kent meets goals for Fairchild Avenue Bridge project

Aerial image of the Fairchild Bridge taken April 28, 2014.

Jenna Watson

Aerial image of the Fairchild Bridge taken April 28, 2014.

Brooke Bower

The Fairchild Avenue Bridge project spanned 19 years and cost approximately $25 million to complete, but Kent officials say they have met their goals of constructing a new bridge, decreasing the traffic congestion and the number of accidents around the former Crain Bridge and intersecting roads.

“Sometimes these projects take on a life of their own,” Portage County engineer Mickey Marozzi. “This started as a rehabilitation of the former Crain Bridge.”

In 1994, Portage County planned to rehabilitate the Crain Avenue Bridge that crossed the Cuyahoga River and connected Crain Avenue to North Mantua Street. City engineer James Bowling said the county decided the bridge should be replaced after it evaluated the overall condition of the bridge as a four with a 10 being the best.

Bowling said the score meant the bridge was still useable, but nearing the end of its useful life and costing too much to upkeep.

According to Bowling, the county and city worked together to form a bridge replacement plan. In 1997, they signed a memorandum to work together to create a new bridge that didn’t include an offset intersection at Crain Avenue and North Mantua Street and decreased the congestion of the intersection.

Preliminary designs were presented to the Kent in 2002, but the city voted against the plans. Bowling said citizens didn’t want Fairchild Avenue to directly connect to Crain Avenue because approximately 10,000 cars a day were travelling the street as Kent State faculty, staff and students commuted to campus.

Decreasing the traffic on Crain Avenue became an additional priority of the project. Bowling said a citizen advisory committee worked with city staff and a consultant to come up with new proposals. Bowling said the new alternates that connected Fairchild Avenue to North Water Street to protect the Crain neighborhood were presented and approved in 2004.

“One guy told me it’d be like putting an ‘Eat At Joe’s’ sign up on the bridge [because] it’s basically telling people to drive down my road with the direct connection,” Bowling recalled.

Bowling said in 2011, a daily traffic count was taken by the city for Crain Avenue, which showed the traffic went from 10,000 cars to 4,500. Another count taken in February 2013 showed a vehicle count of 4,300. Bowling said he is happy the numbers prove the plan to reroute cars into Kent through North Water Street had been successful.

While the bridge was in the development phase, the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study of 2006 identified the intersection of Crain Avenue and North Mantua Street as the most congested intersection in Summit and Portage counties. The intersection is no longer identified as a top congested intersection the study.

Bowling said from 2005 to 2007 there were 180 accidents within the project area and the city wanted to reduce the number of accidents occurring around the intersections of Crain Avenue, Lake Street and North Mantua Street.

“[You] don’t become the most congested because it’s an easy fix,” Bowling said. “If it was an easy fix it would have been done sooner. You become the most congested because it’s not an easy situation. This location was extremely difficult.”

Bowling is proud to say the intersection is no longer on the most congested list and the overall wait times at all the roads intersecting the bridge have improved.

According to traffic analyses conducted by the city, the following statistics show overall wait times in 2013:  

•    Fairchild and North Mantua: 56 seconds in 2009, 31 seconds in 2013

•    Crain, Lake and North Water: 100 seconds in 2009, 18 seconds in 2013

According to accident reports from the Kent Police Department, there have been a total of 94 accidents from 2009 to March 31, 2014, at the intersections of Lake Street, Crain Avenue, Fairchild Avenue, North Water Street and North Mantua Street. This is an improvement compared to the 180 accidents reported from 2005 to 2007.

Kent Police Lieutenant James Prusha said he thinks the new bridge’s design has helped with overall traffic flow.

*(Refer to accident map for year and intersection breakdowns)

Bowling said the project did encounter set backs because of its complexity and the stakeholders in the bridge. Construction teams worked around the schedules of the two trains that cross the intersection, and the rails had to be raised to fit into the new project.

Marozzi recalled an incident when a train loaded with coal derailed and buckled against the Crain Bridge. He said they were all wondering if the new bridge would make it.

Accident Statistics

Intersection @ N. Water Street + Fairchild

2011 – 0

2012 – 3

2013 – 11

2014 (through Mar. 31) – 3

Intersection @ Fairchild Ave. + N. Mantua

2011 – 5

2012 – 14

2013 – 20

2014 (through Mar. 31) – 3

Old intersection @ N. Mantua + Crain

2011 – 7

2012 – 6

2013 – 4

2014 (through Mar. 31) – 3

Bowling said during construction, the crews had to coordinate with the  building of the Sheetz gas station on North Mantua Street. The project included work to existing retaining walls and adding storm water treatment areas for the river. The original design didn’t include connecting the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, but it became an imperative need during the project so that trail users would be able to safely cross the Cuyahoga River.

“If there were any players involved that were faint of heart, it wouldn’t have happened,” Marozzi said. “I was honored to be part of it.”

Bowling said the city hasn’t received the final bill for the project, but the approximate budget of $25 million came from seven different sources.

Kent contributed approximately $4.4 million and Portage County contributed approximately $1.8 million to the new bridge project. Bowling said the remainder of the money was acquired through the County Engineers Association of Ohio Bridge Funds, Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study funds, Ohio Department of Transportation highway safety funds, Ohio Public Works funds and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.  

The project has received two awards in 2014: the Cuyahoga Valley Section of American Society of Highway Engineers’ 2014 Outstanding Highway Project Award and Northeast Ohio’s Association of Bridge Construction and Design 2014 Outstanding New Short Span Bridge Award.

Kevin Kehres, president of the Cuyahoga Valley Section of ASHE, said 20 Ohio counties had the chance to compete for the award, and of the five projects entered, Kent was the only winner.

ABCD’s awards contact, Jonathan Hren, said there were seven bridges entered for the ABCD’s award ,and Kent was one of three to win. Both said the complexity of the project and the additional work with the retaining walls, bike path and consideration for the environment with storm water treatment areas made Kent a top contender for the awards.

“[The awards are] recognition of the complexity of project and recognizing the effort that the city went through to make it more than just a transportation program, but a holistic community wide program,” Bowling said. “Not only did we just build a road, but we connected the bike trails and we had the storm water treatment done with aesthetics that were more than the standard.”   

City Council Ward 1 representative Garret Ferrara said he received complaints prior to the bridge’s completion about how long the project took and the inconvenience the construction caused. He said he hasn’t heard anything since completion and considers the silence a good sign. Bowling said the replacement of the Crain Avenue Bridge was an overdue necessity for the city.

“[I’m] proud of the city and the partners that were able to get this complex project done that solved so many really difficult needs in the area,” Bowling said. “This location was extremely difficult. Between the design firm, the contractor, the state and all the funding agencies that believed that we could get it done, I can’t be more proud of everybody that made a difference for the Kent community.”

Contact Brook Bower at [email protected].