Planners say a long-discussed project to build a pedestrian tunnel under Fulton Drive NW between Jackson High School and North Park is on track to be done next summer.
Sarah Buell, projects and administration manager for Stark Parks, said contractors are relocating utility lines so they're not affected by the work.
MS Consultants, the engineering firm, is finalizing the design. Over the past year, it collected boring samples to test the soil's stability.
Sometime early in 2022, Stark Parks will solicit bids to perform the construction, which will cost an estimated $1.26 million.
Work is scheduled to start after the end of the school year (late May or early June) and is be completed before the next school term in August.
Why build a tunnel by Jackson High School?
Once the tunnel is open, students, faculty and other residents will no longer have to cross the busy Fulton Drive to get to North Park, the Stark County District Library's Jackson Township branch and events at the new 3,500-square-foot Jackson Township amphitheater.
About 9,700 vehicles a day travel on Fulton just west of Wales Avenue NW, according to a 2019 traffic study.
"They're playing Frogger (going) across Fulton at the intersection of Wales and Fulton," said Buell. "You can see quickly why this is a priority for the high school and the Jackson Township trustees now we have this amphitheater there, you have the Stark County Library, new building. There is a lot of activity."
Jackson Township Administrator Mike Vaccaro said, "When they cross Fulton they cross (what) I believe is five lanes of traffic. ... The largest issue is safety. Pedestrian safety. It’s not only for the high school athletics but all pedestrians who want to go between North and South Park."
Todd Porter, a spokesman for the Jackson Local School District, issued this statement.
"The tunnel enhances two of the township’s crown jewels: the parks and the schools," the statement said. "The value for students and the district is first, safety. Jackson High School is located near one of the busiest intersections in Stark County and to have a tunnel that goes under Fulton Drive NW provides our students, student-athletes, and even the Y-Care children (weather permitting) safe passage to North Park, one of the finest parks and outdoor recreational facilities in Stark County."
Similar to Market tunnel
Buell said the Fulton tunnel, at 95 feet long, would be shorter but similar to one under Market Avenue N in North Canton. That tunnel connects segments of the Hoover Trail north of Washington Square. The Market Avenue tunnel opened in 2019 after being built as part of the widening of Market by the Ohio Department of Transportation at a cost of $14.3 million.
According to a diagram of the plans, the Fulton tunnel, a concrete box culvert tunnel, would be just south of the pond by Community Park NW in North Park and just north of Jackson High School, by its western parking lot.
This is west of the new Stark County District Library's Jackson Township branch, which opened in August 2020. The library adjoins the $4 million amphitheater the township opened in May, which is expected to be a commonly used site for school events.
On the north side of the tunnel, an asphalt trail will curl to the northeast and eventually transition to a planned trail. Known as the Jackson Connector Trail, it would go through North Park to Mudbrook Street NW and Jackson Middle School. On the south side, a trail will curl around from the tunnel to the sidewalk on the south of Fulton. The south end of the planned Jackson Connector Trail would at a point west of the tunnel go south toward South Park and then southwest toward the Jackson Bog State Nature Preserve.
Buell said Stark Parks has not yet secured funding for the Jackson Connector Trail, and she has no timeline yet for its construction.
Trustees and the Jackson Local School Board voted in June 2020 to take part in the planning and funding of the Fulton Drive tunnel.
Jackson tunnel a longtime wish list item
Buell said township officials first began envisioning constructing a tunnel under Fulton by Jackson High School in 2001. According to a Repository article, trustees were considering then a $250,000 project. They finally approved late in 2003 authorizing the township's highway department to begin planning.
But Buell said while the township came up with a preliminary design in 2004, the project died due to the complexity of moving utility lines and the lack of funding.
In 2009, the trustees sent a letter to then-Congressman John Boccieri asking him to help obtain about $500,000 in federal funds to help pay for the work, which was then estimated to cost at least $700,000.
Finally, Stark Parks in 2018 applied for a $690,000 Transportation Alternatives federal and state-funded grant through the Stark County Area Transportation Study, which approved the application. SCATS later changed the amount to about $790,000, said Buell.
Stark Parks, Jackson Township and Jackson Local Schools are splitting the remainder. While the cost for each may end up being $250,000 to $300,000 for construction, design and utility relocation, all three have committed up to $400,000 in case of unanticipated costs, Buell said. She added that Stark Parks is awaiting word on whether it gets a state trail fund grant to offset more of the local costs.
Vaccaro said in-kind contributions have reduced the township's cash commitment to about $328,000.
The Jackson administrator said the three partners have not yet concluded a maintenance agreement. But the Stark County Engineer's office will regularly inspect the tunnel.
The cost of hiring MS Consultants to do the design and engineering was about $200,000 and the cost of relocating utility lines such as Internet data lines, water lines, sanitary sewer and natural gas lines was about $100,000.
Buell said the school district wanted construction to occur during the summer so it wouldn't disrupt traffic at the high school.
Buell said the tunnel will have benches, landscaping, handicapped-accessible ramps as well as lighting and security cameras. She said it hasn't been worked out yet who would monitor the video feed from the cameras.
Originally published by the Canton Repository.