Highway work may be left in the rearview mirror

EAST LIVERPOOL – Officials are pondering ways to ensure several state highways traveling through the city continue to be maintained, and among options being considered is de-annexing those roads.

In a recent conversation with Lloyd MacAdam, deputy district director for Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 11, city officials discussed maintenance of routes 30, 39, 11 and 7, portions of which are currently maintained by the city.

Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell said this week that, specifically discussed were lighting, trees growing between sections of the roadway and grass on the hillsides along Route 30/39, potholes on state Route 7 and why those issues have been problematic for the city to address.

Lighting along Route 30/39 has been sporadic for years, which Estell said is partly due to river rats that tunnel through the concrete bases, travel through the conduit and build nests near the bulbs where they can stay warm, chewing through wiring in the process.

The city has had both a local electrical company and AEP look at the situation, and he said ODOT indicated it has never encountered this problem elsewhere.

One solution, it was determined, would be to raise the wiring above-ground to keep it away from the rats, and Estell said that, while ODOT agreed that is an option, it would be an expensive undertaking.

Estell pointed out that the majority of the highway other than that inside the city is not lit, saying he believes the next section that actually has lighting for an extended length is in Boardman.

Trees growing along the highway fall within the right-of-way owned by Norfolk-Southern Railroad, and Estell said the city would have to make arrangements to pay railroad employees to watch city street employees while they clear the trees to ensure no damage is inflicted on railroad property, again an expensive proposition.

He said ODOT has a representative who coordinates issues with Norfolk-Southern who could possibly assist the city in this endeavor.

The grass on the upper hillside along Route 30/39 is cut four times per year by ODOT which doesn’t always keep the area looking trim, but the city does not have the equipment needed to cut grass at those heights.

Lastly, the Route 7 section (West Eighth Street) is littered with potholes, and Estell said, “We mentioned it has been many years since it has been paved, although other portions of (the route ) have been done many times. We were told it won’t be done until 2017.”

He said that, normally, eight years is considered the standard life of a paved roadway and it has been about 15-20 years since that section has been paved by ODOT.

Three options were discussed between ODOT and the city for addressing these issues, including the city continuing to maintain the highways.

However, Estell said, “They want all these items taken care of, which would cost the city far more than we get money for.”

According to the auditor’s office, last year the city split $339,067 in state gasoline tax from the state, with 7.5 percent $24,430 placed in the state highway fund and $313,637 into the street fund.

A second option discussed involved the city and ODOT devising a maintenance contract which Estell said would also likely cost more than the city has to spend.

Lastly, discussion centered around detaching or de-annexing the highways from the city, which would force the state to assume their maintenance.

Estell said it was his understanding that, even though the city would de-annex the roadways, it would not lose any of the funding it currently receives for their maintenance.

He explained that the revenue received from the gas tax and license plate fees are based on vehicles licensed in the city. Since there are no vehicles registered on the highway property, there would be no loss in revenue, he concluded.

“Every municipality gets this kind of funding. If there is a highway (in the municipality), a percentage of the money has to be used for maintenance of that highway. If there is no highway, no percentage has to be taken out,” he said, adding that the funding, then, would remain with the street department for maintaining other city streets.

While de-annexing the highways, then, might sound like a win-win proposition, Estell said there are considerations other than grass, tree and snow removal, potholes and lighting.

With the highways de-annexed, issues could arise over coverage of those areas by city safety forces, since the detached property would become part of Liverpool Township.

“It plays important roles with the police and fire departments,” Estell emphasized, adding he has spoken with township Trustee Steve Betteridge about ways the city and township might work together to resolve any issues.

He pointed out the city fire department is actually the closest to the highways and the police department would need to use them for strategic moves during certain situations.

“We would like to be able to maintain fire and police coverage if they are detached. We are exploring that issue,” Estell said.

Estell admitted, “I don’t know any city that likes to give up property to make itself smaller. As it stands, I see a lot more benefit than harm from detaching the highways.”

In addition to routine maintenance issues, Estell said he foresees future problems along the highways, including a landslide on Route 30/39 that is still showing some signs of recurring, a rock slide where rock has again begun falling, a storm sewer collapse on Route 11 that caused one lane to be closed for year which could indicate problems with other sewers underneath the highway, all of which he said would mean millions of dollars in remediation projects.

“We were extremely fortunate to get emergency aid from the state (for past repairs), but that will not always be available, which means these half-million-dollar projects will at some point fall into the city’s lap,” he predicted.

Detaching the highways was explored in 1996 when City Council actually voted unanimously to do so with a goal of making a property swap with the state, but that never proceeded, Estell said.

A survey would be required if detachment of the highways were to proceed, and Estell said the state paid to have Route 30/39 surveyed in 1996, meaning the majority of the survey has been done.

A meeting of City Council’s street committee is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday for Estell to outline the conversation with ODOT, and he said if council members wish to meet with anyone in relation to the highway issue, that will be arranged.

Estell said he assumes council will make a decision sometime this year on one of the three options for highway maintenance.

Although Councilman Ray Perorazio recently voiced his plan not to support de-annexing the highways, Estell cautioned him to wait until all information can be gathered on the pros and cons of such a move.