Officials gather to open U.S. 30

By JAY SCOTT Inquirer Staff Writer

 

 "How sweet it is!"

With those four simple words, U.S. Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Findlay) summed up the excitement of the completion of U.S. 30 as a four-lane highway across all of Crawford County.

The final phase of the project connecting Bucyrus and the city of Ontario in Richland County, officially opened Thursday morning with fanfare, speeches by dignitaries, and a parade on the new freeway.

The $69.5 million highway project relocated a 16- mile stretch of U.S. 30, widening it from two lanes to four. The project included the construction of two diamond interchanges, new interchanges at Ohio 61, Ohio 598 and Ohio 602, and ten bridges carrying local traffic over the highway.

"Completing the upgrade of U .S. 30 through Crawford and Richland counties is a significant step toward rebuilding Ohio's stressed transportation network," said Ohio Department of Transportation Director Gordon Proctor.

Mr. Proctor received high praise from many of the officials attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, including U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, whom Proctor served while Sen. Voinovich was governor.Mr. Proctor noted the project had its stumbling blocks, most notably the weather.

"We experienced the remnants of three hurricanes, but we got it done," he said.

The Bucyrus to Ontario portion of the project in Crawford County was also delayed by a lawsuit filed by a property owner who did not want to sell land to make room for the highway.

The U .S. 30 upgrade is part of a $5 billion, 10-year plan to rebuild  urban interstate networks, address high-crash locations, and complete the state's rural transportation corridors, such as U.S. 30 between I-75 near Lima and 1-71 just east of Mansfield.

U .S 30 now bypasses the city of Crestline, winding southeast from Bucyrus and passing along the north edge of Galion.

Galion Police Chief Brian Saterfield said the highway actually enters Galion's city limits for just under" one-half mile on the east side of the Ohio 61' interchange. Saterfield said law enforcement on such a small stretch of highway, however, will not be a priority for his department.

"We'll let the ...State patrol handle it," 'Chief' Saterfield said. "We don't have the manpower."

The opening of the new highway is personally satisfying for Tom O'Leary of Galion, who oversaw the U.S. 30 project as deputy director of Ohio Department of Transportation District 3 for the past five years. Mr. O'Leary was flanked by his wife, mother and sons, whom he thanked while making his remarks during the ceremony.

"I first started working on moving this project along when I was a ward councilman in Galion, and it continued when I was a county commissioner and later served in state government" Mr. O’Leary said "I have spent more than half of my life working on this project in one way or another. It was an honor to be part of the movement that brought together this kind of public improvement."

Mr. O'Leary said there were three different groups of families that needed to be thanked for their sacrifice and contribution to the highway project. He listed the families of those killed in traffic accidents on the old highway, the families whose farmland was used for construction of the new high Ohio's way, and the families of the construction workers who came from different parts of the state to work, and would be away from home for days or weeks at a time.

ODOT estimates nearly 700,000 work hours were spent on the highway project.

"That's hours spent by laborers, carpenters, equipment operators and skilled tradespeople," Mr. O'Leary said. "Without them, we'd still be out there pawing at the dirt."

Safety and economic development were the two key reasons for the importance of building a new U.S. 30. This theme was echoed by the elected officials in attendance at Thursday's ceremony, including Oxley and Voinovich, U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor, State Sen. Larry Mumper of Marion, State Rep. Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, and State Rep. Bill Hartnett of Mansfield. Rep. Gillmor called the new highway "the greatest transportation project in this area in decades."

The economic development theme was emphasized by volunteers distributing souvenir scissors to the several hundred visitors in attendance at the ceremony. The scissors were attached to a note which read "Linking our communities in commerce and cooperation." The note contained a map of the new freeway, and listed the chambers of commerce from Bucyrus, Crestline, Galion and Mansfield.

Galion residents hosted their own celebration of the new highway, at which Galion City Councilman Fred Smith said the new highway's four-lane connection between 1-75 and 1-71 should give a boost to the city's economic development efforts.

"Galion sits right in the center of that corridor. That's just right," Mr. Smith said.

"Maybe now Galion will move," Galion resident Virginia Horton said.

She and her husband Frank, along with relatives Max and Shirley McCown from Plano, Texas, were among the scores of people lined up in their cars at PECO II to break in the new road with the grand opening caravan from Galion. The Hortons said they visited the construction site every day to monitor its progress, and were glad to see it done.

Mike and Pat Alkire of Galion were part of the caravan, with their Harley Davidson motorcycles.

"We're really glad to see it open," Mr. Alkire said of the new highway.

With the opening of the four-lane version of U.S. 30, the former U.S. 30 will become a county highway, and its maintenance and upkeep will fall under the jurisdiction of the Crawford County Highway Department.

"It really is remarkable," said Congressman Oxley as he summed up the grand opening ceremony. "This should put a lot of closure in place for a lot of families who lost loved ones on the old highway, and create optimism for the future of the community."

 

Story taken the Galion Inquirer’s Friday, August 5, 2005 paper