A project to move Ohio 794 away from the Springfield Air National Guard Base for security reasons is going out to bid.
Bids to relocate the road — a $3 million project about seven years in the making — will be reviewed on Feb. 7 by Clark County commissioners.
As early as March, the county will begin constructing about 1.4 miles of new road between U.S. 68 and Ohio 72, which is vital to keeping the base open, Clark County Engineer Jonathan Burr said.
“It’s all about keeping those jobs here,” he said.
Between the base’s three Air National Guard units, about 1,000 people work at the base, with the 178th Fighter Wing employing about 800 of them.
In recent years, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the base has an annual economic impact of $95.2 million.
For local residents, the alternative to the road work could be worse, according to Burr.
He points to Ohio 444 in Fairborn. This past fall, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base permanently closed a mile-and-a-half stretch of Ohio 444 out of similar, anti-terrorism concerns.
Even during the bulk of construction, Ohio 794 will remain open, Burr said.
“This roadway continues to serve the public,” he said. “It meets what we need to do and still keeps the road open.”
In the process, the current state highway will become a county road, and the old section of roadway will become an internal base thoroughfare.
In 2005, when the Guard initially requested to examine moving the road, it was estimated about 2,000 cars a day travel Ohio 794 — about half of them from the base.
“We’re giving them an alternate,” said Col. Gregory Schnulo, base commander.
The current road is too close to the base to satisfy post-9/11 military security standards, which state a road should be at least 82 feet from any inhabited building and at least 148 feet from primary gathering facilities.
The relocated road will run around an Air Guard communications building still being constructed and a recently constructed Army National Guard facility, giving the base “one contiguous fence line,” Schnulo said.
In 1999, when the 13,500-square-foot dining and medical facility known as the Yoxford Inn was constructed on the base — it’s the building with the A-7 Corsair on static display right near the road — it was simply a different era.
“Back in the days before 9/11, our anti-terrorism requirements were different,” Schnulo said.
The road relocation project includes more than $2.9 million in federal funding and about $726,000 in state money. That pot includes a $980,000 earmark obtained in 2007, when David Hobson still represented the area in Congress.
The National Guard in December approved $119,000 to build a road connecting the new road to a new main base entrance, which will face U.S. 68.
“The wheels of bureaucracy don’t turn very fast,” Burr said. “When you’ve got this many entities involved in a project, it takes time to get it done.”
He said the project is on schedule.
“Most people think the project starts when the backhoe shows up,” he said. “In reality, there’s five years of plans and paperwork.”
During the road’s early planning stages, the base still had F-16s. The base lost its fighter jets in 2010 as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, but in turn gained a more sensitive mission.
In February 2012, the base began remotely flying the MQ-1 Predator around the clock on combat air patrols as part of the War on Terror. Guardsmen at the base also analyze intelligence.
Even so, according to Schnulo, the need to move the road is no greater now than when the jets were here.
“Aircraft on the ramp were every bit as much of a target as a building,” he said.