Lawsuit pending for future Middlebury bridge

Douglas M. Kafury

The barriers prohibiting traffic from using the Middlebury Road Bridge are more than just physical blockades. They are also symbolic barriers of negotiations between the city and the owners of the bridge.

The bridge has been a point of contention between the city and CSX Corporation since the bridge closed March 14, 2003 – so much so that the city is suing CSX Corporation.

CSX Corporation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., owns the bridge and the railroad that runs beneath it, so the city cannot do anything with the bridge until it has approval from CSX Corporation.

The city has already spent approximately $226,000 to purchase a new bridge, and the pieces are being stored at Ohio Bridge Company in Cambridge, said Wayne A. Wilson, Ward 3 councilman.

Wilson said once the new bridge is installed, the city will assume control of the structure and be able to maintain it so the bridge doesn’t decline into disrepair again.

Wilson said there have been negotiations between the city and CSX Corporation, but the two parties could not come to an agreement.

“The railroad company is not cooperating with us,” Wilson said.

The city agreed to contribute $960,000 of $1.2 million needed for the installation of the new bridge, but the offer was rejected by CSX Corporation, according to a release from City Manager Dave Ruller’s office.

CSX Corporation spokesperson Kim Freely said she could not comment on the issue because of the pending litigation.

The complaint was filed in December 2005 in Portage County Common Pleas Court, but the city is still awaiting an answer from CSX Corporation, Kent Service Director Eugene Roberts said.

Roberts said the city is saving time by filing a lawsuit because they are at a point where a decision will have to be made. However, Roberts said the ideal solution wouldn’t be a judge’s order.

“If we can settle before the litigation is complete, that’s great,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the bridge was closed because the weathering it had endured over the years had weakened its structural integrity. The structure’s rusting caused the bridge to become unsafe.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Carrie Gavriloff said a number of residents in her ward have been inconvenienced by the bridge being out. Residents who live on Middlebury Road and use state Route 261 to get to work have to take lengthy detours.

“What could have been a two minute drive became a 10 minute drive,” Gavriloff said.

Wilson said state Route 43, Franklin Avenue and Mogadore Road have experienced an increase in traffic since the bridge has been out.

Contact public affairs reporter Douglas M. Kafury at [email protected].