Those are the words Wellington mayor Barbara O’Keefe uttered Wednesday, preparing to open the village’s long-anticipated railway underpass to traffic.
The $13 million project began in April 2013 — and while vehicles are now surging through the tunnel construction is anticipated to continue through spring months, according to village manager Steve Pyles.
The Ohio Department of Transportation made Wellington’s railroad crossing a priority in 2011.
But construction was pushed back two years as the agency wrestled with a $1.5 billion shortfall, said Howard Huebner, deputy director of ODOT District III.
It is the last of 30 projects identified in 2001 as needed, he said.
ODOT “took the views of the community seriously and worked to create a grade separation that is distinctive and consistent with the architectural feel of our historic downtown,” said mayor Barbara O’Keefe. “I think they’ve created a new gateway to our downtown that is an improvement in so many ways.”
She recalled her very first conversation with Ohio Sen. Gayle Manning, who at the time was seeking her first term in office.
“I told her about our challenge in getting the grade separation going. She appreciated the safety concerns related to the grade separation,” O’Keefe said, calling Manning a “powerful and persuasive advocate” for the project in Columbus.
The mayor also thanked Ohio Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk), who “kept the project alive when it was in real danger of not being built.”
“I think this project is one we can be proud of. It is pleasing to the eye. It will help to alleviate traffic congestion. And most importantly, we will no longer have the heavy train traffic as a barrier to our safety services performing their important work,” said O’Keefe.
Roughly 75 trains pass each day through Wellington, providing a challenge to construction after groundbreaking in April 2013.
The long job was also slowed by weather and the discovery of large clay deposits under the railway, which made drilling pylons difficult and tedious.
Originally intended to wrap up by August 2014, the project rolled on more than a year past its contracted completion date.
Despite the hiccups, O’Keefe said the construction workers, village officials, ODOT officials, and everyone involved worked hard to make the underpass a success.
Huebner said more than 50,000 man-hours have been put into the underpass. Now he expects to see improved traffic flow through Wellington.
“Our hope is the community sees it as a success,” said ODOT public information officer Joyce Miller. “It’s really a testament of the community and Wellington. It’s beautiful.”
ODOT engineer Brian Rawlings was also happy with how the underpass came out. “I think the community is happy to see it open,” he said. “This is a huge milestone.”
Rawlings said workers still have to finish grating, seeding grass, and paving sidewalks and driveways. Kelley Street will remain closed, but he expects to have it open sometime in December.
One-hundred percent completion is expected by June 2016, he said.
Valerie Urbanik and Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-647-3171 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik and @EditorHawk.
Photos by Valerie Urbanik and Jason Hawk | Wellington Enterprise
A train passes over the underpass Tuesday prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony, before the long-in-the-works project officially opened to traffic.