Push for pole replacements at state’s expense

SALEM- City electrician Mike Bibbee said he’s pushing for replacement of all the traffic light poles in the downtown area, hopefully with the state footing the bill.

“They 100 percent agree they should have been galvanized and they’re willing to 100 percent step up to the plate and help us,” he said, referring to the Ohio Department of Transportation and the poles used for a 1996 state project.

Bibbee reported his findings regarding the condition of the 27 poles supporting the traffic lights downtown during a Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks Committee meeting Thursday night in council chambers.

His day began with installation of a new, galvanized pole at the southeast corner of Broadway Avenue and State Street where the traffic lights crashed to the street two weeks ago when the original pole broke off at the base on a busy afternoon. No one was injured and no vehicles were struck, but the incident prompted Bibbee to have all the poles inspected for weld strength and wall thickness.

He’s still awaiting the written report from a private inspector at Mhs Services of Baden, Pa., but said the inspector identified at least three poles seriously at risk when he did the testing.

The most serious, the traffic light pole at the southeast corner of State Street and Lincoln Avenue, is being removed and replaced Sunday. Residents can expect delays, with police officers directing traffic.

The other two poles slated for imminent replacement are located at the intersection of State Street and Ellsworth Avenue, specifically the corner at Consumers Bank and the corner at the flag pole and municipal lot.

That’s four poles at a cost of $10,000 so far for the city, not including all the time Bibbee has been spending on the problem trying to find replacement poles, researching the previous traffic light pole project contacting everybody involved and trying to get answers from ODOT.

The project began in 1994 when the engineering was completed and then the project was finished in 1996. Bibbee spoke to someone from ODOT who told him the poles should have been galvanized, which means they were treated to prevent rust. The private inspector, in his professional opinion, told Bibbee “there’s no way they were galvanized.”

Bibbee got his hands on an ODOT spec book from 1995 which said poles “shall be galvanized.” The problem with this project was that the poles installed downtown were not, he said, making them more susceptible to wear and tear. Bibbee found a pole supplier in Twinsburg to match the poles that needed replaced, but made sure they were galvanized.

He said he talked to another ODOT representative in Columbus and came away feeling that the state is 100 percent behind the city, with plans to get structural engineers involved. When he gets the inspector’s written report, he’ll forward a copy to ODOT.

He said he would rather have ODOT look at the remaining poles to figure out what can be done now. Committee member Councilman Jeff Cushman had asked if there was a way to shore up the existing poles so they can’t fall down.

Bibbee was concerned that if the city tried to do something on its own, with a type of steel sleeve, then ODOT could say they altered the pole and that could negate any responsibility by the state. He said ODOT realizes the urgency of the situation.

With the three poles at serious risk, he’s not waiting around. The arms which actually hold the traffic lights can be reused, but if ODOT agrees to replace all the poles, those will likely be replaced, too, on the rest of the poles.

Committee Chairman Councilman Roy Paparodis thanked Bibbee for all his hard work and for being on top of the situation. With the poles painted black, there was no way to tell they had not been galvanized. The damage was from the inside out, making it difficult to detect. Committee member Councilman Clyde Brown also offered thanks to Bibbee, who was accompanied by city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst.

The presentation was informational, to update the committee on the details, with no action necessary.

In other business, the committee heard a complaint about sidewalks from Pearce Circle resident Jennifer Brown, who’s a member of the Beautification Committee through the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. She said the sidewalks in the downtown area are in poor condition and some work needs done on the curbing.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have some issues,” she said.

She presented the committee with photographs of the sidewalks on Lincoln Avenue, State Street, Pershing Street and Broadway Avenue. She questioned how the city can expect homeowners to take care of their homes when the city hasn’t taken care of the city. She was thanked for her input.