Kent residents voice concerns over closed Middlebury bridge

Meranda Watling

Jim Wyle was excited recently when he saw railroad workers on the tracks near the Middlebury Road bridge. Thinking they were there to work on the bridge, he started a conversation.

But the workers were only working on the tracks. In fact, they complained to Wyle, who has lived near the bridge for 15 years, that they had to go all the way around because the bridge was closed.

Wyle’s response?

“How would you like to live here and do that every day?” he asked.

Nearly 80 Kent residents met yesterday afternoon at the Kent American Legion to discuss the problems and delays with the Middlebury bridge and the possible legal action they could take.

The Middlebury bridge, which links the residents to Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and the other side of the city, has been closed because of safety concerns since March 2003, said Gene Roberts, service director for the city of Kent.

The city has already paid to have the replacement bridge fabricated, he said. Currently, the new bridge sits unused because it can’t be installed without CSX Transportation’s cooperation — something that has been elusive over the past three years. The city is currently suing CSX, which owns the bridge and land, citing both safety issues and the inconvenience caused to residents by the closed bridge.

The concerned citizens, most of whom live in Ward 2, listened as Linda Copley, Kent City Council clerk and one of the group organizers, Ward 2 councilwoman Carrie Gavriloff and Roberts talked about the issue and options.

“I’ve probably talked to many of you on the phone about the bridge,” Gavriloff said. “Even today, I was annoyed I had to go around to get here.”

Many of the residents complained about the cost of taking alternate routes.

“I use the bridge to go to work every day,” said Sheri Chestnutwood, who lives on Gardenview Street and works for the city’s Service Department. “That’s the closest way to get to work. Now it takes twice as long to get to work and twice as much gas money.”

Bill Nome, an attorney who has agreed to work on the citizens’ behalf, said they had two choices: file and join the city’s pending lawsuit or file their own lawsuit. Even joining the city’s suit, the case likely won’t be heard until at least the end of year, he said.

Waiting is something the residents seemed tired of doing. Wyle said he believes the city has been slow to act because its priorities are in other areas.

“The priorities for the city has been the university, rebuilding downtown and building a library that looks like Disneyland,” Wyle said. “I don’t think it’s really that big of a priority for the city, maybe if more of the councilmen lived down there with us, they’d deal with it.”

Gavriloff agreed to raise the issue at Wednesday’s council meeting and invited residents to voice their concerns.

“As the council representative, I relay to council the complaints and concerns residents have,” Gavriloff said. “In the past, I’ve brought this issue up. But if they saw this many people, they’d have to consider it.”

Copley said she and her husband, Paul, started the concerned citizens’ group because they were always complaining about the bridge and wanted to do something.

“We were very encouraged by the people who showed up today,” Copley said. “It shows how much the citizens care.”

At yesterday’s meeting, 10 people signed up and paid $50 to join the lawsuit, Copley said. She said joining the suit is an option for any person affected by the closed bridge. Interested people should contact her at (330) 673-2541 or [email protected].

Contact public affairs reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected]