By Melanie Williamson
On Tuesday, October 30, city and state officers, residents, and project participants gathered on Highbridge Road for the grand opening of the new bridge that now connects the southern and northern portions of the road allowing for quicker access.
The Highbridge Road bridge has been a focus and point of discussion in Vermilion for many years. The original Highbridge Road bridge was built over the Norfolk and Southern rail line in 1990. The structure was a “pony truss bridge” made of wood and designed for horse drawn traffic. The original bridge was
With the bridge, Highbridge Road served as a route between Vermilion Road and Liberty Avenue. However, the original bridge was considered unsafe and taken down in the 1980s. The absence of the bridge has prevented residents on the south side from getting quickly to town and significantly increased emergency response times.
The serious discussion of building a new bridge began in March of 2015 when the administration at that time held a public meeting to explore the possibility. The new bridge was estimated to cost $2.02 million. As the city decided to move forward with the project, the Ohio Department of Transportation awarded Vermilion $1.44 million through the ODOT Municipal Bridge Program.
In early 2018, Mosser Construction was awarded the contract to build the new bridge, which was to be 40 feet wide and 115 feet long. Work began on the project shortly after the contract was awarded, and it was just recently finished.
One of the primary concerns in wanting the bridge rebuilt has been the safety factor. Without the bridge, it took several minutes for emergency teams to get from Fire Station to the south side of Highbridge and the areas beyond there. With the ongoing discussion of a new fire station and possible locations, the opening of the bridge will make it easier to choose a location that will allow for fast response to all areas of the city.
Below is an excerpt of the speech Mayor James Forthofer gave at the opening of the bridge.
This bridge is 115 feet long. Not big by bridge standards. But its impact is significant in city development and emergency response time.
This bridge serves a different Vermilion than of the early part of last century.
Economically, Highbridge unites the area near State Route 2 in the South with State Route 6 in the North, our newly developing commercial corridor.
But most importantly, this bridge that we are opening can literally be the difference in life or death to our growing population in the south of Vermilion. In emergencies seconds count. This bridge can improve response time by minutes.
Before this bridge it took Vermilion’s first responders 6 minutes and 45 seconds to reach the other side by using detours. With this bridge, an emergency responder leaving Vermilion’s Fire Station 2 is 2.5 minutes from the residents on the south side of this bridge. A 4 minute 40 second improvement in response time.
That’s at least 4 minutes and 40 seconds that:
a resident’s heart remains stopped,
4 minutes and 40 seconds that a baby remains unable to breath,
a house continues to burn,
or 4 minutes and 40 seconds that an accident victim continues to bleed.
A lot of people have been waiting a long time for this bridge to be replaced. 30 years. Some of them are here today. Mrs. Sharon Stempowski is one of them.
Many of you know Ms. Stempowski. She served on Vermilion Council. She is the mother of our Fire Chief Chris Stempowski. Mrs. Stempowski lives on Vermilion Road. Her friends call her Sue. She had surgery some years ago. Unfortunately, Sue’s health is not good.
After the bridge was taken down in the 80’s, one of Sue’s neighbors suddenly become ill. He died at home. Sue firmly believes that that neighbor would have lived had the bridge been in place and the response time quicker.
Mrs. Stempowski has had many a worried night, when her health was especially bad, thinking of that neighbor and worried for her own survival if things took a turn for the worse. Could she get help in time?
This bridge opening today means a lot to many people. It is very personal to Mrs. Stempowski. She was here when it was taken down. She is here at its replacement. And she will sleep easier because of it. I can guarantee you that there is no happier person today at this bridge opening than Sharon Stempowski.