Getting the state Route 212 bridge back on track

Getting the state Route 212 bridge back on track

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

The railroad bridge over state Route 212 just outside Bolivar hasn’t changed in more than 100 years. During that time a lot has happened including 20 accidents in just the past 17 years.

The cause of the frequent accidents, as residents know, is the low elevation of the bridge — only 12 feet 6 inches, clearly marked but nevertheless no deterrent for the drivers of some semis and garbage trucks.

According to Nick Strub, project manager for the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway Company, the bridge was originally built over the Ohio and Erie Canal. However, the Great Ohio Flood of 1913, along with changes in the way goods were transported, made canal travel basically obsolete.

Strub said the railroad’s records indicate the roadway was relocated under the bridge in the 1930s when the state highway system was being built.

Complicating matters is the road itself. “It’s downhill to get under the bridge and then kind of uphill coming out,” Strub said. “That’s why semis have such a hard time because they get halfway under and then the roadway comes back up.”

A solution is coming

The railroad is planning to raise the elevation under the bridge next year, thanks to a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation of $250,000. Strub said the railroad will pay the other $240,000 needed for the project.

What spurred action is one of the most recent strikes when a garbage truck driver hit the bridge in 2020, actually knocking the track out of alignment.

“It was generally talked about that we needed to do something for a while,” Strub said. “But when the trash truck hit the bridge, it displaced the track enough that it would have caused a derailment.”

Making matters worse, Strub said, the accident was not reported to them until Joe Rinehart, who lives on the curve by the bridge, called them.

“It definitely would have derailed the train because it displaced the tracking, but it did not break the rails,” said Strub, who explained the railroad’s electrical signals indicate a break in the rails but not a displacement.

Furthermore, Strub said the railroad uses that line to move hazmat materials including oil, gas and flammables. “So a derailment could have been pretty disastrous, but this project should eliminate that risk.”

How will they do it?

According to Strub, several ideas were considered for altering the elevation including lowering the roadway, but ODOT considered that notion too complicated and costly.

“There’s a culvert there, so they would have had to reconfigure the whole roadway,” Strub said. “So we came up with the idea of reducing the size of the beams that span over the roadway.”

Right now there are two 84-inch-tall girders between the track and the bearings, Strub explained.

“What we’re doing is putting in riser blocks, four beams that are only 60 inches tall,” Strub said. “It will keep the track elevation the same, but we’ll be able to raise the clearance to about 14 feet, 10 inches.”

The higher elevation, Strub said, should easily accommodate semis, which are typically 13 feet, 6 inches. That’s good news for everyone as bridge strikes are both dangerous and costly.

“Whenever the bridge is struck, there’s an immediate impact to the roadway,” Strub said. “Traffic is stopped, and we actually have to stop running trains for a period of time to inspect the track. So there’s a large economic impact to the rail customers in Ohio and wherever the train is headed that day.”

Work on the bridge probably won’t begin until August 2020. Strub said getting the steel needed is the holdup.

“The steel girders have to be special ordered based on their size,” he said. “We’ve put the order in with the mills, but they’re telling us right now they’re at least six months out on delivery.”

For travelers of this section of state Route 212 and residents near it, that may not be soon enough. But the good news is a solution is just around the bend.