Fairchild Avenue Bridge Project comes one step closer to a reality

Breanne George

In an effort to reduce traffic congestion on Crain Avenue and provide basic transportation needs in the city of Kent, construction of the Fairchild Avenue Bridge is set to begin in 2008.

The Fairchild Avenue Bridge Project involves building a four-lane bridge on Fairchild Avenue over the Cuyahoga River that will connect with Water Street in downtown.

In addition, the existing Crain Avenue Bridge will be replaced with a smaller utility/pedestrian bridge that will become an extension of the Franklin Mills Riveredge Park and Portage County Hike and Bike Trail. The project also includes a park and concrete bike tunnel that will go underneath the Fairchild Avenue Bridge.

The original plan was to simply replace the “structurally failing” Crain Avenue Bridge. However, the community objected, said Chris Tolnar, Kent’s superintendent of engineering. Residents were concerned with the traffic impact on traditional residential neighborhoods in the vicinity where many houses are single-family residences.

“It is perceived by people living near Crain Avenue that their traffic woes are the result of a shortcut people use to get to the university,” said Tom Clapper, general manager of Kent State Transportation Services.

Most cities have normal rush hours at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. as people go to and from work, but Kent is different. Because of Kent State, the city experiences day-long rush hour between classes.

For the first time, the city used a new federal transportation process called Context Sensitive Design, in which public input is gathered in the early stages of the project development process via a citizen’s advisory committee. The purpose of the committee was to approve the final plan.

“We can determine our future by shaping the way the transportation system will impact our community,” said Clapper, who was also a member of the committee. “It is our goal to make Kent more livable, vibrant and safer.”

The intent is to facilitate a continuous traffic movement north and south on major roads resulting in a direct link between Water Street and state Routes 43 and 59, said project manager Jim Bowling of ARCADIS consulting firm. Since traffic on the Fairchild Bridge will be directed downtown, another potential benefit is economic growth for local businesses.

The project is complex because of the difficult topography around the Crain Avenue Bridge. There is both an upper and lower railroad track as well as a longitudinal sloping of the road.

A new railroad requirement, which requires a clearance of 23 feet for the lower tracks, causes an additional challenge. The current bridge is only 19 feet, but Bowling said the city, railroads and the Ohio Department of Transportation had to compromise on a height of 22 feet for the utility/pedestrian bridge.

“The higher we pushed that up, the more detrimental an impact on roads next to it and the upper (railroad) tracks,” Bowling said.

With community, industry and government interests in agreement, the next step is right of way estimates for the acquisition of properties, “a total of 55 affected persons,” Tolnar said.

There will be three appraisals to determine the fair market value of properties. In an effort to retain residences and businesses in Kent, the city is required to relocate individuals to comparable property in close proximity.

“When we (adjust the bridge location) for the greater good of the community there are some sacrifices,” Tolnar said. “The process is designed to be fair to everyone, the public city and individuals affected by the project.”

The city owns the project, but the county owns the bridge and roads. The Ohio Department of Transportation will oversee operations to ensure the project meets federal guidelines. When construction is complete, the city will own the Fairchild Bridge. ARCADIS, headquartered in Denver, is the design consultant.

The project, which costs $17.1 million, is currently funded by three sources: The federal government, Portage County and the city of Kent. The city is currently receiving $11.5 million in federal money. The county will fund $1.4 million and the city will pay $3.3 million. Bowling said they are currently pursuing additional funding sources for the remaining costs.

Most bridge projects start with demolition, Tolnar said, but in this case the Fairchild Bridge will be built first. Traffic will be switched over and the Crain Avenue Bridge will then be demolished.

“Traffic flow will be impacted, but maintained,” he said.

A quarter-mile section of Route 43 between Stinaff and Rockwell Streets will be widened to four lanes. Fairchild Avenue will also be widened to create a four-lane intersection at Route 43. Construction is expected to take two years.

Contact features reporter Breanne George at [email protected].