‘Road to Progress’ Opens in St. Clair Township

CALCUTTA, Ohio – Often called “the road to nowhere” by frustrated residents wondering when it would be completed, Columbia Drive was officially opened Thursday morning with officials saying it is now “the road to progress.”

Part of the connector road between state Route 170, Challenger Drive and McGuffey Drive in the heart of the St. Clair Township business district, Columbia Drive was started in 2000 after a recommendation by the township’s Blue Ribbon Committee.

Phase A of the 0.14-mile of existing roadway was funded with a $750,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Development and obtained by the county development department. 

The initial construction included traffic signal modifications, improvements to Challenger Drive, water main and gravity sewer along the entire length of the project, drainage facilities, wetlands mitigation and basin construction.

Since completion of the first phase, township officials have tried to obtain grant funding to complete Phase B, including trips by trustees to the nation’s capital, knocking on doors in an attempt to secure funding. 

Ultimately, the remaining $2.3 million cost of Phase B was made possible through a $1.8 million interest-free loan from the Ohio Public Works Commission, a $250,000 grant from Columbiana County commissioners and $250,000 in Tax Increment Funding generated by the township.

Calling it “an exciting day,” trustee Chairman Jordan Williams welcomed a host of state, county and local officials, township employees and others to Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, saying the vision of current trustees, former longtime Trustee Jim Hall and Fiscal Officer Deb Dawson is coming to fruition with the project’s completion.

“I’m grateful for the work and perseverance of all the people and agencies involved. … I am thrilled with the opportunities this new infrastructure will present,” Williams said. 

He thanked the Ohio Public Works Commission and county commissioners for their contributions that made the project possible.

Trustee Bob Swickard gave a brief history of the project, saying, “We’ve never settled for ‘this is enough’; we’ve always tried to do something a little bit better and leave something better than we found it.”

He recalled that the Blue Ribbon Committee devised a plan that included widening the three lanes of state Route 170 – which was handling upwards of 27,000 vehicles per day – to five lanes, and construction of McGuffey Drive and Columbia Drive.

Persistence, hard work and a vision 20 years ago to move the township forward is what started the road to progress, Trustee Jim Sabatini offered in his remarks, praising Dallis Dawson & Associates for the engineering, Mike Pusateri Excavating for the construction and county commissioners for the grant funding. 

Saying the secret to success is being ready when an opportunity presents itself, Sabatini praised Dawson for her insight and perseverance in securing the grant and loan funding, making sure all paperwork was prepared and submitted diligently.

“Our wheels of government do not move without this girl here,” Sabatini said of Dawson.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday to officially open Columbia Drive in St. Clair Township.

County Engineer Bert Dawson told trustees they can be proud of what has been accomplished with the new roadway, saying he remembered when the Calcutta area was farmland.

“It has changed and will continue to change. With this road to progress, you can come back here in 20 years and there will be stuff built on both sides. It will mean jobs, opportunity for our schools to grow and our township to grow. It will be an unmitigated great thing,” Dawson said.

The recently completed cracker plant in nearby Pennsylvania is also going to have a tremendous impact, according to Dawson, who said, “It’s going to make a lot of things happen in St. Clair Township,” noting traffic has already increased considerably on Calcutta-Smith Ferry Road due to the plant’s workforce. 

“We ought to be prepared for that. It may be five years or 10 years, but this place will be like Boardman,” Dawson said.

Dawson also praised the Ohio Public Works Commission, calling it, “one of the greatest programs that’s ever occurred in the state of Ohio to bring state money back to local projects like these.”

According to OPWC Director Linda Bailiff, the Columbia Drive project has proven to be a significant one for her agency, saying that in the 37 rounds in which infrastructure funding has been provided, this $1.8 million was the largest loan that has been made within Columbiana County’s borders and, in fact, the largest in District 14.

Former St. Clair Township Trustee Jim Hall and his wife, Pat, were the first to travel on the newly opened Columbia Drive on Thursday, with an escort by township K-9 Officer Keith Hilderbrand and his partner Rebel.

“This is really quite significant,” said Bailiff, who explained that most OPWC funding goes for repair and replacement projects because those are legally the priority for such funding.

New and expansion projects such as Columbia Drive are not funded as often, with fewer applications received for those, she said. 

The project ranked fourth of 39 applications considered and received the maximum number of points in eight categories, Bailiff said.

“This project is important and significant regionally. You were strategic; you were showing perseverance, and that’s what it takes to obtain funds. And I can see it was well worth it,” she said.

Bailiff thanked the community and business owners, saying, “I live in a township and know what it means to have patience and cooperation,” referring to the lengthy wait between completion of the two phases.

When the formal ribbon-cutting was complete, Hall and his wife, Pat, were the first to drive the length of the roadway, escorted by K-9 handler Keith Hilderbrand and his partner Rebel. 

The road was officially opened to traffic soon after.

Currently, the speed limit on the new stretch of roadway is 55 mph, but trustees said they expect during their meeting Saturday to direct police Chief Brian McKenzie to conduct a traffic study that likely will result in lowering the limit to 40 mph, the same as other roadways through the business area.

Pictured at top: St. Clair Township Trustee Chairman Jordan Williams, standing, addresses those gathered Thursday for the long-awaited opening of Columbia Drive. Seated are, from left, Trustee Jim Sabatini, Trustee Bob Swickard and Fiscal Officer Deb Dawson.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.