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Cleveland officials demand railroads address repairs on nearly 100 bridges

The Cleveland skyline with train tracks in the foreground
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland's Office of Capital Projects assessed the city's rail bridges and found that 23 need critical repairs.

Cleveland is demanding major rail companies fix nearly 100 critical and noncritical bridge infrastructure issues in the city.

The city’s Office of Capital Projects assessed rail bridges and found that 23 need critical repairs.

"There are also 76 noncritical railroad bridges as well that need maintenance due to everything from falling concrete to the potential for disaster," Law Director Mark Griffin said.

At a press conference on Payne Avenue and East 39th, Griffin explained the repairs needed for the Superior Avenue bridge.

"As you see behind us, this is number 10," Griffin said. "This is the Superior Avenue bridge at East 39th, and on that bridge, the Mayor's Office of Capital [Projects] ... found failing bridge bearings, a need to repair the concrete columns and retaining walls over the roadway, the need to scale, repair and seal abutments."

These repairs go beyond physical safety, Cleveland City Councilmember Jenny Spencer said.

“The Lake Avenue bridge is one that was designated as a Cleveland landmark last year due to its historic significance and its physical attributes that are just deteriorating, similar to the bridge behind us we’re losing a lot of that historic character," Spencer said.

If the railroads don’t respond, the city may pursue legal action, Griffin said.

"We're looking at every tool in our civil and criminal toolbox to make sure that we can enforce these to the extent that we can," Griffin said.

The city has sent its findings to the railroads.

"To them we say, don't tell us you don't know, because now you do," Griffin said. "We expect you to fix these bridges, and if you don't, we will hold you responsible."

The city is also calling on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure these infrastructure issues are addressed by the railroads.

"First and foremost, the responsibility is for the railroads to take care of their own bridges. They are financially responsible for making sure that they're up to code," Griffin said. "Secondly, there's a responsibility by state and federal regulators to ensure that they uphold that."

Most of the critical need bridges are on the city's East Side.

Griffin said the city's communication on repairs has been clear and a federal government order for encasement of the Cedar Avenue bridge has been ignored for eight years.

"So our message to the railroad companies today is clean up your act," Griffin said. "Our message to the federal and state authorities is do your job, and our message to our citizens is we hear you."

Bridge repairs are a widespread problem throughout all wards, Spencer said, and the city is trying to avoid another disaster like the derailment and chemical burn in East Palestine. The need to look at rail bridge infrastructure came after a special hearing in March examining local rail safety and emergency preparedness, Spencer said.

"Although many important topics were touched upon during the hearing, class one railroad-owned bridge condition emerged as a prominent and widespread problem, effecting nearly every ward across the city of Cleveland," Spencer said.

The city will continue to work with federal lawmakers to pressure rail companies, Griffin said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.