A construction project designed to protect the Springfield Air National Guard Base from terrorism by relocating the nearest road is under budget and ahead of schedule.
About 300 feet is all that’s left of the $3 million project to move Ohio 794 away from Guard buildings in order to meet tougher security standards set for military bases after 9/11.
“The bottom line is, we had to do this,” Clark County Engineer Jonathan Burr said Tuesday, the day the western section of the new road opened to traffic.
The entire stretch likely will open in September or early October instead of November, as initially planned.
Burr also is anticipating giving money — possibly as much as $800,000 — back to the federal and state governments.
“We’re going to be way under the $3 million estimate,” he said.
The project has been eight years in the making, and its funding includes a $980,000 earmark obtained by David Hobson when he still represented the area in Congress.
The county, which will take over the road once complete, started construction in March by clearing farmland and a few patches of trees for 1.42 miles of new road.
Among the benefits of coming in under budget is that the county will be able to put a heavier, longer-lasting asphalt surface on the road at a cost of $80,000 more, Burr said.
“The way the county budget is,” he said, “I need to get as long a surface life as I can.”
The road still will connect U.S. 68 and Ohio 72, but merely puts more distance between drivers and the Guard.
The base’s 178th Fighter Wing was flying F-16s when the National Guard began to examine the possibility of moving the road in 2005, but has since switched to remotely flying Predator drones abroad — a sensitive new mission that has attracted protesters to similar bases.
For the base commander, the finished project will be a relief.
“It will put us in compliance with (Department of Defense) anti-terrorism standards,” Col. Gregory Schnulo said.
Those same standards — which state that a road should be at least 82 feet from any inhabited building and at least 148 feet from primary gathering facilities — led Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last fall to permanently close a stretch of Ohio 444 in Fairborn.
Closing Ohio 794 wasn’t viable, Burr said, with so many farm trucks in particular using the road.
“This was the best option that we had,” he said.
The project also puts the local Guard base in a stronger position to withstand any future rounds of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure process, Burr said.
The base pumps $99.4 million annually into the county economy, according to the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a major employer in the county,” Burr said.
While the view from the new road makes the base look larger, it will retain the same amount of land after part of it is given back to the city for the airport, Schnulo said.
“It looks good. They’re doing a great job, and doing it very quickly, too,” Schnulo said.
Keeping the old Ohio 794 open to traffic for as long as possible during construction allowed crews to complete the project faster, according to Justin Bukey of DLZ Corp., which was hired by the county to oversee construction due to a shortage of manpower at the engineer’s office.
“We’d still be working if we had local traffic,” Bukey said. “When you have virgin construction, where you stop for the day is where you stop.”
Heather Myers, a resident of the area, was pleasantly surprised Tuesday when she instinctively took the finished section of road toward Peacock Road after dropping her daughter off at Hustead Elementary School.
“Wait a minute,” she thought, “this is supposed to be closed.”
“It’s exciting it’s finally open and I can get home faster,” Myers said.
Once the entire project is complete, the main entrance for the base will face U.S. 68, although Schnulo was unsure Tuesday when construction of a new gate will start.
The static displays of fighter jets flown through the years by the 178th will also likely be out of public view for good.
“It’d cost a lot of money to move a plane on a stick,” Schnulo said.
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering the latest developments at the Springfield Air National Guard Base.