The Suburbanite
  • Stimulus in Stark: Miles of federal funding in county

  • Stark County residents will see roughly $37 million worth of stimulus funding into road, bridge and railroad projects. Roughly 10 projects are slated to start this year.

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  • Hills & Dales Road NW could be considered the poster child for the federal stimulus program in Stark County.
    With $4.8 million in stimulus funds committed, the $5.2 million road widening project represents the federal government’s largest single investment of stimulus money in the county. And with the stimulus program’s trademark “Putting America To Work” highway sign, orange cones, gritty construction cranes and safety barrels along the road’s edges, it’s also among the county’s most visible stimulus projects.
    A list of road projects in Stark County funded by stimulus money
    Less conspicuous, though, are the jobs officials hoped these multi-million dollar transportation projects would generate.
    Improving infrastructure was a tenet of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill. He said transportation spending would help fix the nation’s aging infrastructure and put people back to work. To speed the recovery, preference for funding was given to “shovel ready” projects — those road and bridge improvements already through the multi-year review process.
    Roughly $37 million from the recovery act will fund improvements to Stark County roads, bridges, sanitary sewers and railroad crossings.
    It will help stabilize Sherrick Road SE, a key artery in southeast Canton that rests on unstable, settling backfill caused by a deteriorating underground sanitary sewer. The money will provide the missing link — a 260-foot span over the Deer Creek spillway — for the Stark County Park District to bridge its trail system with Alliance. The bridge has been on the park’s to-do list since 1998, said Director Robert Fonte.
    The stimulus funds also will free up other federal money that will help the county engineer fix one of Stark’s most dangerous bridges — The Deerfield Avenue bridge in Lawrence Township. The bridge has been closed or under restricted use for nearly a year due to concerns about its structural integrity.
    Without stimulus funds, the bridge could have sat untouched for another year while the engineer found funding.
    “... Sometimes it takes years from the time of identifying the need until when the money is available,” said Chief Engineer David Torrence.
    While the stimulus has fast-tracked construction projects, it hasn’t budged jobless claims for contractors.
    Unemployment among Ohio construction workers still hovers around 20 percent, according to labor statistics. Stark County had lost roughly 500 jobs in construction, mining and logging in December compared to the year before.
    But without the stimulus, the job situation would be far worse, several Stark County contractors said.
    “We would have laid people off,” said David Miller of Stanley Miller Construction in East Sparta, whose company recently finished a stimulus-funded project in Ashland. “Our people are used to being laid off, then hired again, but they would have been laid off (longer).”
    Page 2 of 3 - The stimulus money invested in Stark County’s infrastructure and transit system had paid for 60 full-time construction-sector jobs, according to reports filed by the contractors involved with the stimulus-funded projects.
    Widening Hills & Dales to four lanes between Brunnerdale Avenue NW to Massillon helped Canton-based Central Allied Enterprises retain 11 full-time employees, reports show. However, officials had estimated that the project, then expected to cost $7.4 million, would support 40 jobs. It’s unclear how many of the jobs were filled by Stark County residents.
    Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association, believes the federal government’s fast-paced deadline for submitting projects for stimulus funding may have hampered some of Ohio’s job creation efforts. He said the state likely couldn’t submit its more complex infrastructure projects due to the time limitations, and instead offered more resurfacing projects, which don’t require as many workers to complete.
    Still, Runyan said, it’s too early to measure the full impact of the stimulus. He noted that as of Jan. 25, the Ohio Department of Transportation had paid contractors only $90 million of the $774 million the agency has committed for road projects.
    “That tells you that $680 million has yet to paid out,” Runyan said. “There’s just a small amount of money that has hit the streets so far.”
    In Stark County, 11 of the 27 stimulus-funded projects haven’t started. Hills & Dales is less than 20 percent complete.
    “I think 2010 is the year of the stimulus project in Ohio,” Runyan said. “It hasn’t fired up as quickly as everybody hoped, but it is going to happen.”
    Jack Ford, vice president for heavy highway projects for Beaver Excavating, believes Stark County will further benefit from the stimulus’ spin-off dollars — funds generated by contractors such as Beaver Excavating that buy materials from Stark County businesses.
    “We use a lot of services here in Stark County,” Ford said. “We have a lot of overhead and office staff that live in Stark County.”
    The Perry Township company, which landed the $93 million stimulus contract to construct the Nelsonville bypass in southeast Ohio, also often uses Stark companies as subcontractors, Ford said. It hired Northstar Asphalt and RMI construction as subcontractors for both the $13.7 million bridge replacement contract in Portage County and its $11 million bridge and interchange project in Tuscarawas County. Both projects were funded by stimulus dollars.
    “The spin-off from our dollars through construction is big,” Ford said. “It doesn’t all stop here; it gets spread around.”
    With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contributing $4.8 million to the $5.2 million Hills & Dales Road widening project, Stark County officials were able to take the federal money originally allocated to pay for the road project and use it elsewhere.
    Page 3 of 3 - Here’s where the money will be spent:
    • Deerfield Avenue NW bridge, Lawrence Township;
    • Kemary Avenue SW bridge, Perry Township;
    • MLK Viaduct rehabilitation, Liberty Avenue to Patterson Street, Alliance;
    • Main Avenue West improvement, Seventh Street SW to 23rd Street NW, Massillon;
    • North Main Street resurfacing and reconstruction, North Canton;
    • Cleveland Avenue reconstruction, resurfacing and curb ramp installation from 12th Street NW to 50th Street NW, Canton. (Project also received $100,000 in stimulus funding due to lower than expected costs on the Wooster Bridge project.)
    Source: Stark County Area Transportation Study

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