Bridge work moves ahead

NILES – The closing of the Robbins Avenue Bridge has forced nearby residents and businesses to adapt over the past two months. Now as the bridge replacement enters its third month of an estimated 180-day project, some community members worry the start of the school year will bring major traffic problems.

Val Yakimovich, who lives in the Shadowridge Condominiums, said traffic re-routed across East Federal Street is already heavy.

“That is probably the hardest part, the intersection of East Federal and Main Street,” Yakimovich said.

Since East Federal is commonly used to get to McKinley High School, the city is preparing for increased traffic in the next several weeks.

According to Mark Hess, the city’s engineering and grant development coordinator, remedies may include extending green traffic signals along East Federal to keep traffic flowing.

“We’ve had some email conversation with board members and the police chief,” Hess said. “We’re still discussing what exactly we’re going to do. The traffic signals is an area we’re going to look into.”

The construction area goes along state Route 169 between Vienna Avenue and Main Street, with the bridge expected to be out of service until late October. The Ohio Department of Transportation is handling the $1.5 million project. The detour is Interstate 80 to U.S. Route 422.

“My understanding is they’re a little bit ahead of schedule at this point,” Hess said. “We’re hoping they do get finished with it quickly.”

Shirley James, owner of Ward’s Costume Shoppe Inc. along Robbins Avenue, said she has not seen a noticeable downturn in business over the last two months, but she does worry about the future. James’ store specializes in Halloween costumes and related items.

“This month is usually slow for us anyway,” James said. “Now when October comes around, it might be an issue.”

Meanwhile, employees at Belleria Pizza along Robbins Avenue say business has remained consistent through the construction.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” Robbie Beliego, manager, said. “We don’t get a ton of traffic from the other side of the bridge normally anyway. Our delivery guy has no problem just going down to Pratt Street and across.”

The majority of frequent Robbins Avenue drivers simply expressed frustration at the inconvenience of having a main piece of roadway blocked off.

“When I need to go downtown, it makes things hard,” Belle Terre Avenue resident Eleanor Evinsky said. “Plus, with the McDonald (Olive Street) bridge not being done yet, that makes it even harder to get around.”

Yakimovich said he would not even travel to the downtown side of the city if he didn’t have to.

“If my bank wasn’t down there and if I didn’t go to St. Stephen’s Cemetery, I probably would never even go down that way,” Yakimovich. “Unfortunately, I still have to for now.”

ODOT said the bridge was badly in need of repairs, and that it would cost less to replace the span than to repair it.

Clarissa Myers, who lives on Mason Street, believes the inconveniences will be worth it for a safer, cleaner bridge.

“The bridge was rated an F,” Myers said. “We definitely needed it done and I’m all for them redoing it. Plus, it is clearing out all of the garbage that was there. It won’t interfere with schooling either because we go the back way already.”

Hess encouraged parents and students to research alternate routes to and from Niles schools to help ease traffic concerns.

“I don’t think getting there will be much of an issue,” Hess said. “It’s getting out that you may run into some problems. People might want to start thinking about different roads until the bridge is done.”