After lots of dreaming, Third Avenue Viaduct open for use

August 31, 2018

Eighty years – that’s how long city residents have been pondering, discussing and hoping for a pathway improving north-south travel in Columbus.

In that eight-decade time frame, 13 presidents have been seated in the Oval Office, man stepped foot on the moon and America prevailed in a world war.

But on Thursday morning, years of what-ifs vanished as the Third Avenue Viaduct officially opened for travel following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, where dozens gathered on the north end of the structure celebrating a community milestone.

Following words from several community leaders, eight cars filled with passengers slowly rolled over the viaduct. Mayor Jim Bulkley said that several making to trek south over the bridge contacted him directly inquiring if they could serve as the viaduct’s first travelers.

One participant was 95 years old, one drove in from Humphrey and several first-time users were local residents. All had waited long enough and were eager to press tires on asphalt.

“As I think about it from a community perspective. These are truly milestones when you come to the conclusion of something that Columbus leaders and residents have talked about for so long,” said K.C. Belitz, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. “But really more actively, 30 years it took from the time that there were really serious efforts saying, ‘this viaduct should be built.’”

The project was a huge effort of time and energy. There were many moving parts that needed to cohesively fit together to produce a desirable outcome, something that wasn’t easy to accomplish.

Former city mayor Mike Moser spoke about the many ups and downs faced during his time in office regarding the project that received residents’ approval in 2008.

“There always seem to be political problems, then there are funding problems and the project always looked impossible, so people shirked away from it,” said Moser, who faces off against Doug Oertwich for the vacant District 22 Legislative seat in this November’s general election. “So we took a group of stakeholders, citizens, engineers and staff from the city and put them on a committee.”

Bulkley, Moser said, served as committee chairman during the duration of the process that started around 2005-2006. The committee worked closely with the Union Pacific Railroad, state officials, engineering companies and federal representatives to map out the best plan of attack.

Project expenses were approximately $11 million, which included costs relating to the 18th Avenue pedestrian walkway. Seven percent of the project came from the city’s pockets, 13 percent from Union Pacific and the remaining from state and federal governments.

The project, Belitz said, serves twofold. It opens up traveling options and diminishes risk associated with so many crossing the train tracks, which are now underneath the viaduct.

“We are going to save lives – literally, by building these structures,” Belitz said. “And secondly, from a community development perspective, good internal and external transportation for structure simply makes for a better community. You get to where you need to go, commerce happens, all those things happen better when there’s good infrastructure.”

With one project in the books, the city now is focusing its attention toward another viaduct build generating excitement.

“Overall, this has been a great collaboration by everyone that’s been involved,” Bulkley said. “This is only the beginning, we are going to get this ribbon cut and then get started as soon as we can on 12th Avenue.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at Sam.Pimper@lee.net.

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