Salem to shore up signal poles downtown

SALEM – Poles holding up the traffic lights in downtown Salem will get some extra support in the coming weeks to help keep them standing, city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst said Wednesday.

The plan to shore up the poles involves welding gussets or triangular-shaped pieces of steel onto the base and against each pole in several spots around the pole to give extra support and hold the pole in place, like braces.

The condition of the poles became a problem earlier this year in the winter when a pole at the southeast corner of the intersection of Broadway Avenue and East State Street broke off at the base, sending the traffic lights crashing to the street below on a busy afternoon for traffic.

No one was hurt, but the incident caused city electrician Mike Bibbee to take a closer look at the problem and the condition of all the traffic light poles in the downtown area. He had the poles inspected for weld strength and wall thickness by a firm from Pennsylvania. The inspector determined that at least three additional traffic light poles were seriously at risk.

Bibbee replaced the pole that crashed and the three at-risk traffic light poles, with two at State and Ellsworth Avenue and one at State and Lincoln Avenue, using new galvanized poles in an effort to prevent rust.

During his investigation, he discovered the traffic light poles first installed in the downtown in 1996 through an Ohio Department of Transportation project were not galvanized. He said an ODOT spec book from that era called for galvanized poles and the inspector who looked at the city’s traffic light poles said there was no way they could have been galvanized.

Four ODOT engineers traveled from Columbus and New Philadelphia last Thursday to visually inspect the traffic light poles in downtown Salem on State Street from Howard Avenue to Lincoln Avenue and on Lincoln Avenue from State Street to Pershing Street. Kenst said that two engineering firms had done ultrasonic testing on the poles to look at the thickness and the base.

Earlier this year, Bibbee said he was pushing for replacement of all the traffic light poles, hopefully with the state footing the bill, but Kenst said now they’re saying there was an alternate in the bid back in 1996 for putting wax inside the poles to protect them. He said they can’t wait for ODOT to decide what they’re doing or go through another winter without doing something about the traffic light poles.

Kenst said a possible fix was shown to ODOT engineers who gave the go-ahead for the gusset idea. A state certified welder will do the welding and the city will get the steel gussets from a local company. Each gusset will be 18 inches tall and 3/4 of an inch thick, with the bottom wider than the top. Four huge bolts keep the base for each traffic light pole in place. The plan is to place about eight gussets around each pole, in between the bolts.

Any deterioration on the poles has been at the bottom. He said they’ll test the fix on one pole, see how it goes, then do the rest. He said there are 22 traffic light poles that need the fix.

“We feel it’s a safety issue,” he said.

Kenst said they still plan to pursue assistance from ODOT, since it was an ODOT project and it appeared the specs weren’t followed. He said they’ll continue pursuing ODOT until the state says no.

The arms holding the traffic lights were reused with the new poles and will remain in place. Bibbee noted previously that with the poles painted black as part of the earlier project, there was no way to tell they had not been galvanized. The damage was from the inside out, making it difficult to detect.