By KATHLEEN EVANOFF
The Niles Times
Although the newly reconstructed Fifth Street bridge has been open for a few weeks, the city of Niles and officials with CSX Railroad officially cut the ribbon Friday morning also with a brief dedication ceremony.
City and state officials gathered last week for the Fifth Street bridge ribbon cutting ceremony. Pictured are Matt Dietrich of the Ohio Rail Development Corp; Rusty Orben, director of government affairs with CSX Railroad; Niles Mayor Ralph Infante; Fourth Ward Councilman Ed McCormick; Dave Wilkerson, 1st Ward councilman; and Reggie Giancola, 3rd-Ward councilman. Also in attendence were Michael Lastic, at-large councilman, and John Merlo, 2nd-Ward.
Nearly a year after the former three-span truss wooden bridge, originally built in 1904, was damaged by a 15 car train derailment on July 30, 2011, the $1.4 million composite steel bridge once again opened the city to the area of Salt Springs Road and Weathersfield Township.
''About 1,500 cars travel this bridge each day,'' said Niles Mayor Ralph Infante. ''This bridge provides a link with the city of Niles and Lordstown and is a quicker route for emergency vehicles.
''I want to thank everyone their hard work and dedication to this project,'' he said.
According to CSX Corporation, the upgraded bridge's higher vertical clearance helps clear the way for the railroad's double-stack freight containers. By upgrading the bridge, the area has become a link with East Coast sea ports and and the CSX northwest Ohio terminal, as well as other midwest distribution and manufacturing hubs, said Matt Dietrich of the Ohio Rail Development Corporation.
The cost of the new bridge came from funds made available through CSX and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to Niles engineer Mark Hess. No local tax money was used in the project, Hess said.
The city of Niles is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge, Hess said. Only this bridge and the bridge along the route of the soon to be completed bike trail are maintained by the city, he said. All other bridges in Niles are either maintained by Trumbull County or the Ohio Department of Transportation.
"The Fifth Street Bridge is a perfect example of local economic growth driven by private and public investment in our nation's infrastructure," Infante said. The Fifth Street bridge is also the first bridge to be completed as part of the National Gateway improvement projects, Infante said.
The National Gateway improvement project is expected to increase the vertical clearances at 61 locations on CSX rail lines in the region to accommodate the double-stack rail containers, according to CSX officials.