4 counties cobbling together SR 53 plan

Four area counties formed a coalition Friday with the collective goal of improving SR 53.

Elected officials from Seneca, Sandusky, Wyandot and Ottawa counties, as well as mayors from Tiffin and Upper Sandusky, attended a meeting facilitated by North Central Ohio Council of Governments.

Rich Focht of Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. said the meeting was intended to form a plan to help improve the highways in the four counties.

“This is not a short-term proposition. This is something that’s going to take commitment from all of us in our respective counties,” Focht said.

Seneca County Commissioner Fred Zoeller said the coalition is a “win-win” for all the involved counties.

“If we can move traffic coming down 53, you’re going to have more business in Sandusky County, you’re going to have more business in Ottawa County, you’re going to have more business in Seneca County,” Zoeller said. “Everybody’s a winner in this whole situation.”

He said forming the coalition will give the counties more strength when dealing with the state government.

Zoeller said Gov. John Kasich helped facilitate a meeting with Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray earlier this week.

He said Wray was receptive to a plan presented by Zoeller, Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz and NCORcog Director John Davoli.

Zoeller said the state is going to do a study on what should be done with SR 53, but in order to get the study, the county needs to raise some matching funds.

He also said Wray said there are 60 ways to get state funding to improve SR 53, in addition to turnpike money.

He said some of these ways do not involve the TRAC program, which Seneca County does not fare well in due to its smaller population.

Montz said the meeting with Wray was an “eye opener.”

He said it is important for the four counties to work together to continue to get the state government’s attention.

“Hopefully, this is the first of many meetings because, together, we’re going to get a lot more done,” Montz said.

Ottawa County Commissioner Steve Arndt said he does not agree with having to raise local money for a study because he has seen many studies done with no follow-up on actual projects.

“I think your issue of having a coalition together is a good one,” Arndt said. “But what I’m seeing the needs for in Seneca County, the only way you’re going to fund that is going through TRAC.”

He said Ottawa County had a similar project with SR 2, and while there were some improvements made for safety, the project was not completed.

“I wish I had a better feeling that even after the study was completed that it would be built,” Arndt said.

During the meeting, Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman gave a presentation of the SR 53 and explained the importance of having a bypass around Tiffin so SR 53 would not have to go through the city.

Zimmerman also said improving a specific part of a highway “is a waste of taxpayer dollars” and that the focus should be on improving the entire corridor, which would benefit all the counties.

“We go to Columbus as a coalition, we go with great strength,” he said.

Local business owners Lenny Clouse and Bill Reineke also spoke in support of the coalition and the project to improve SR 53.