When Portage County completed the repair work on the Main Street Bridge in downtown Kent this Fall, they were required by railroad safety regulations to replace the older iron fencing with newer safety fencing for that section of the bridge that went above the rail line.
The new safety fencing serves its purpose well — it’s high enough to prevent things or people from falling off the bridge onto the rail line. The downside is it’s not as attractive as the classic iron fencing that was there before and remains on the rest of the bridge.
No one questions the importance of safety fencing on bridges; the question that the City had was whether it was possible to upgrade the standard safety fencing to something that is more in keeping with what was there before and complements the fencing used on the remainder of the bridge.
Portage County worked with the City early on in the project to try to get the best looking safety fencing we could for the Main Street bridge. It turns out that railroad safety trumps any argument we might offer for replacement of the older classic iron fencing so the height and design of the safety fencing was not open for discussion by the State, the Feds or the railroad.
The good news was we were able to negotiate a higher grade of safety fence material that was colored black like the rest of the bridge fencing. It cost the City a little more but we felt it was an improvement over the standard rusted-grey fencing.
Even though the new safety has been installed, the City staff has continued to work with the State and Federal agencies to see if we could get any reconsideration of the fencing. We thought that our strongest argument had to do with the historic nature of the bridge and the less than historic look of the new fencing.
ODOT offered to send our concerns back over to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) since they’re job is to advocate on behalf of historic structures in Ohio. Back in May 2014 SHPO signed off on the project in general as being fine — or in the official terms, having “no adverse impact” on the historic bridge.
At our request (with ODOT’s help) SHPO has been asked to take a second look more specifically at the fencing to see if they still find that the fencing has “no adverse effect.” Here’s ODOT’s letter to SHPO:
It looks like SHPO has 30 days to reconsider the fencing and hopefully they’ll see an opportunity to push for a return to the more classic fencing.
Either way we appreciate the State’s willingness to work with us and the County to explore any options we have to justify a return to a more traditional looking fencing.