Oak Hill Road deterioration no easy fix
|Part of Oak Hill Road has been closed to vehicular traffic after land on the side of the road sunk several feet.|
|The area on the side of Oak Hill Road used to be even with the road. Erosion due to the changing Furnace Run stream, which is visible at the right, has led to the problem, engineers said.|
|Photos: Kathleen Folkerth|
A portion of Oak Hill Road in Boston Township is literally collapsing into the stream below. But what can be done to fix the problem?
|Joe Paradise, of the Summit County Engineer’s Office, measures cracks during a recent stop at Oak Hill Road in Boston Township.|
Prior to that action last month, Boston Township officials appealed to Summit County Council to vacate the road, which would effectively close it to traffic within the township’s boundaries, due to a lack of funds for maintenance. After two public hearings on the matter, Council put legislation regarding the vacation on time for 90 days so local communities and entities can try to find some common ground on solutions to the problem.
No township residents live on this portion of Oak Hill Road. There is a house there that the National Park Service owns. However, Oak Hill Road continues into the city of Cuyahoga Falls and Bath Township and is a throughway for drivers heading to Hale Farm & Village and Old Trail School.
With the 90 days about halfway over, officials are still weighing how to fix the problem.
“Our options are limited and the solutions are expensive,” said Joe Paradise, director of engineering for the Summit County Engineer’s Office.
The Riding Run Trail, a bridle trail, runs along the side of the road. Paradise said problems on the road first came to his attention about a year ago, when the side of the road with the trail sank down about 2 feet.
“Boston told us and we put dirt in and graded it,” he said. “Two weeks later it dropped two more feet.”
At that point, workers dumped a load of dirt at the site to keep horse riders off the trail.
Now there are major cracks in the dry dirt along the side of the road that leads to the embankment.
“There are some gaps that are 5 to 6 inches wide and go down 2 feet deep,” Paradise said.
On May 31, Boston trustees requested the Engineer’s Office reduce the road to one lane. But Paradise said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to place heavy concrete barriers on a road that could be crumbling. So instead the Engineer’s Office decided to close the road.
The barriers have been staggered so foot and bicycle traffic still can use the road, which leads to the Everett Road Covered Bridge, a popular recreational spot in the area.
Paradise said the road used to be county maintained until the Everett Road Connector was built about 20 years ago. County records show the maintenance of the road was transferred to the township in 1996, he said.
During public hearings, Boston Township Trustees Chairwoman Amy Anderson said the reason for the request to vacate the road is due to a lack of funds for maintenance. In her testimony, she said 92 percent of properties in the township are part of the National Park Service, schools, churches or camps, which means they do not pay property taxes.
“We do not have the income to maintain these anymore,” she said of Oak Hill as well as Wetmore and Stanford roads, two other roads the township asked be vacated. (County Council did adopt legislation to permit the vacation of Stanford Road but placed the Wetmore Road legislation on time like it did for Oak Hill.)
Weighing in against the vacation of Oak Hill Road were officials from Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and the city of Cuyahoga Falls, as well as residents of the Cuyahoga Falls portion of the road.
Falls officials said they are concerned about closing the road permanently because of increases to response time for emergency vehicles as well as the lack of space to turn around large vehicles such as trash trucks and snowplows.
During the July 16 meeting, Cuyahoga Falls City Council approved a resolution urging County Council to reject the township’s request to vacate Oak Hill Road as well as Wetmore Road.
Paradise said the city uses the Boston Township portion of the road more than anyone else, so he has suggested that Cuyahoga Falls consider annexing that portion of the township and taking over maintenance of the road.
In a recent interview, Falls Mayor Don Robart said that could be considered though he’d like to find another way to solve the problem.
“Anything is possible,” the mayor said. “We would look at annexing all of Boston Township perhaps, but Boston Township has not come to us. If they did, we would look at it.”
Robart added that he was struck by comments from Paradise, who has said the national park was developed in such a way that private residences were left throughout so that communities would be required to take on the maintenance of the roads.
“What clicked in my head is that it takes an act of Congress, and maybe it does,” Robart said. “I put a call in this week to [U.S. Rep.] Steve LaTourette [R-District 14], who at one point was high in the transportation committee. I outlined to his staff what we see as the problem.”
Paradise said the road’s issues could be addressed through funding from the Public Lands Highway Discretionary program of the Federal Highway Administration. The funds have been used in CVNP to repair Truxell Road in 2007 and Akron-Peninsula Road in 2010, he added.
While that is a possibility, Paradise said the Engineer’s Office doesn’t know when the next round of funding will be available.
Even if the road’s problems were to be addressed, Paradise said it would be difficult to prevent problems from happening to other sections of the road that are near Furnace Run.
“The problem is every time you rebuild, some place you stop,” he said. “That’s where the next problem will occur.”
The way he sees it, Paradise said there are two options for the communities affected by closure.
“The first is to relocate the road, but we cannot build new roads in national parks,” he said. “It gets to be very laborious. It’s a lot of work for a minimal number of drivers — about 200 drivers a day.”
The other option is to keep the road in place and stabilize the embankment.
“We have to harden the slope with natural materials and rebuild the whole thing,” he said. “It will be very time consuming and expensive to do the permitting [because it’s a national park].”
For now, Paradise said the Engineer’s Office is just hoping that no heavy rains occur, which could give the stream bank the push it needs to collapse further into Furnace Run.
“Mother Nature will not be denied,” he said. “She will move the river.”
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