ODOT, county meet on SR 53

Members of the Ohio Department of Transportation met with city and county officials Tuesday morning to discuss improvements to SR 53 and a bypass around Tiffin.

Deputy Director Todd Audet of ODOT District Two said his district, which includes Seneca County, is one of 12 districts in the state competing for more than 4,000 safety projects.

“We’ve got a big elephant here to eat,” Audet said. “When I talked to Sen. (Dave) Burke and (director of ODOT Jerry Wray), the strategy – at least at this point until a rainbow lands in our district and we have a pile of cash – is to eat this elephant one bite at a time.”

Audet said, compared to other projects in the state, a bypass to help minimize truck traffic in Tiffin, is not “making a strong return” at ODOT from a safety standpoint.

“This area is an area of concern, but it is not a safety hotspot,” he said.

Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said truck traffic causes infrastructure damage in the city, and there is a lot of concern about semis driving through the Tiffin University area.

ODOT District Two planning and design engineer Mike Gramza said safety projects are scored by congestion, number of accidents and cost of project.

Gramza said the SR 53 project is not going to score high enough to garner larger safety projects.

Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Rich Focht said the proposed bypass on the north side of Tiffin would connect US 224 and SR 53, and would include the two industrial parks.

Focht said manufacturing companies in the area are expanding and seeing a lot of success, and that is going to cause more traffic.

“It’s got to get really bad to get somebody’s attention down in Columbus that this warrants ranking up there with the city of Toledo,” he said. “This is really an issue that needs to be addressed. I just see this getting worse and worse.”

District One and Two coordinator Jeff Loehrke said there has to be “public investment” in a project funded by the ODOT Jobs and Commerce Office, which helps fund projects that create and retain jobs.

Loehrke said the $5 permissive tax on license plates, along with job creation out of industries, would be “something we could work with.”

Commissioner Jeff Wagner said he and County Engineer Mark Zimmerman offered Burke a 20-percent match to do the bypass project. He said Burke wanted to earmark the project into the state’s budget, but was unable to do so.

The matching money would come from gas taxes from the engineer’s office and not from the county General Fund.

Commissioner Fred Zoeller said ODOT did a super two study almost 10 years ago. Audet said ODOT will use as much of that study as it can.

“This is a huge project; we need to do it in segments,” Zoeller said. “I’m fine with that, as long as we have an overall plan.”

Audet said the bypass project has all the requirements to keep ODOT engaged and interested.