MILAN - Would Milan really shut down the northbound side of U.S. 250 near the southern boundary of the village and cut off the major route north in the area?
Mayor Robert Bickley threatened to do just that if the Ohio Department of Transportation and other state officials can't help fund the $100,000 needed to repair erosion on the federal highway discovered after heavy rains in September.
Bickley wrote letters to state representatives Matthew Barret and Sue Moreno for help in finding funds for the emergency repairs.
"Our final position remains IF ODOT insists the village is financially responsible and IF the roadway is in such condition as to be of possible danger to the public and IF the village is liable for any harm that may be caused to the traveling public, the village will utilize the $2,907.36 to purchase orange barrels and ROAD CLOSED signage to close U.S. 250's northbound lane immediately and until such time as the village receives enough road tax funds to make the necessary repairs," Bickley wrote.
The $2,907 Bickley mentioned is the current balance in the village gasoline tax fund, which is earmarked for road repairs.
Until a resolution is found for the conflict, ODOT has put up orange barrels near the side of the road where the berm has collapsed.
The village does have a levy for street and sewer repair, but administrator Bruce Bowie said it wasn't intended for federal or state highways. "When we put that levy on for the residents, it was for their streets not the federal and state roads," he said. "If it was put on the ballot for those roads, it would get a resounding 'no' vote."
Bowie added that the levy generates about $100,000 a year so it would take a year to gather the funds for the U.S. 250 repairs and that would leave nothing to take care of streets that village residents use daily.
Bowie said the village's street superintendent noticed the erosion after a severe thunderstorm in early September. The village notified ODOT for assistance in repairing the problem.
ODOT's answer was one the village didn't want to hear.
"ODOT again urgently recommends the village take immediate action to correct this condition which is clearly the responsibility of the village of Milan," wrote Tim Farley, highway management administrator for ODOT, in a letter to Bowie. "Should the village fail to respond to my office . . ., ODOT will proceed with measures to secure an emergency contract to repair this hazard."
Farley gave the village a Nov. 9 deadline and said the village would be billed directly for all costs for the repair if ODOT does the work. He estimated a $100,000 bill.
Bowie agreed with ODOT's contention that according to Ohio Revised Code, the village is responsible for maintaining all federal and state highways within village limits. But that doesn't make it feasible, he said.
"It's a classic case of unfunded mandates," he said. With only about $3,000 a year income from gasoline tax, he questioned how federal and state governments can expect the village to make major emergency repairs to a highway that takes people past the village rather than through the village. "We've probably spent that just mowing the grass on the roadsides for state and federal roads," he said.
Bickley agreed that state and federal governments were expecting too much of local communities by dumping all maintenance for state and federal roads on small communities. "Hopefully, we can get some cooperation from ODOT," he said.
Huron County Engineer Joe Kovach has also agreed to help Milan and ODOT look for funding for the project. "It's not really a Huron County engineer problem, but I try to work with everybody," Kovach said. "In the spirit of all working together, we're trying to help out."
Brian Stacy, ODOT district 3 spokesman, said ORC is very clear in detailing the village's responsibility for the cost of the repair. He said if ODOT completes the work, the department would bill the village for materials, labor, overhead and equipment.
"We sought to meet with the village and were unable to set a meeting to discuss how to proceed further," he said. "It's an obvious safety concern."
That concern prompted Farley's letter giving the village a deadline to take action, Stacy said.
ODOT officials have met with Bickley and Bowie since then, Stacy said, to talk about possible funding options for the project.
"We're continuing to work with the village and continuing to work on an amicable solution while at the same time trying to protect the safety of the motorists that use U.S. 250," Stacy said.
Stacy would make no projections as to what ODOT would do if the village can't find funding and shuts down the northbound side of the highway. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," he said.