Last updated: August 23. 2013 10:45PM - 540 Views

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LIMA ó The public will get its first look Tuesday night at detailed plans for an Elm Street underpass that will route traffic around east-side trains.

The city of Lima will hold a public open house meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight at Lima Senior High School cafeteria to discuss the preferred route of the Elm Street underpass. A formal question and answer period will happen at 5:30 p.m. The rest of the time will be in a drop-in format for public questions and information.

The Elm Street location is preferred over Bellefontaine Avenue because of engineering issues with the Bellefontaine location. That spot would have meant taking a significant amount of property, including currently operating businesses.

Train traffic frequently interrupts and divides the east side of the city with the rest of the community, sometimes for more than 30 minutes. While itís a major inconvenience for drivers, it also poses safety problems for emergency responders and ambulances rushing patients to the hospital. It also affects the flow of commerce. The crossing on Bellefontaine Avenue alone has 17,000 cars pass each day.

The city started with 10 alternatives and narrowed them down to one, City Engineer Kirk Niemeyer said. The meeting will include information about the project and right of way needed for construction. Those property owners and tenants in the area who will be affected have been notified of the meeting by mail.

Lima has been working on the project for at least a dozen years but had little luck acquiring funding. Several years ago, then-U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley secured a $2 million earmark for preliminary engineering work on the project. The entire project is an estimated $18 million.

Recently, the city submitted a $3 million request to the Ohio Department of Transportation to purchase right of way needed for the long-desired underpass to get traffic around the train tracks on Bellefontaine Avenue near Lima Memorial Health System. The city has a construction time line of 2018.

The city has been denied funding three separate times from the group that prioritizes and funds large transportation projects in Ohio, but city officials believe the effort has picked up some steam.

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray met with local leaders when Gov. John Kasich delivered the State of the State address in Lima in February. Local leaders explained the importance of the project and the long funding road. Wray suggested breaking up the project into smaller pieces, so that is what the city is doing.

The city used $15 million in federal surplus money to build the Vine Street underpass. In more than a bit of irony, the east-side project was not eligible for stimulus money because it already was tied to a long federal planning process that meant the work couldnít be done quickly, as the Vine Street work could be.

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