STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson County commissioners voted 2-1 to vacate a 1.14-mile section of county Road 7F Thursday and turn it into a biking and hiking trail.
County Commissioner David Maple, who voted in favor, made the proposal months ago as part of his pitch to cap the piggyback tax emergency fund and use excess money for recreation projects around the county.
County Commissioner Tom Gentile also voted to vacate the road, while Commissioner Thomas Graham voted against it.
Thomas Graham on county Road 7F
Several people spoke in favor of vacating the road, saying the county needs more recreation as a quality of life issue. Those against it said it could increase truck traffic in Toronto and would close an alternate route if state Route 7 was closed.
Gentile said a recent economic development study cited the lack of jobs and recreational opportunities in the county. He said the county could consider reopening the road if the former power plant at the north end of Toronto is developed.
Graham said he received only opposition to the plan.
"Do we need trails, yes. Does it have to be on (county Road) 7F? I don't think so," Graham said.
Graham said there wasn't a traffic study on the road to determine use. He also cited complaints of illegal dumping along the road, saying he doesn't know if it is greater than other areas in the county.
Mike Paprocki, Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission transportation engineer, said the road is in poor condition and needs repaved for vehicle traffic. He said people are abusing the right of way on the road by dumping trash.
Sue Hershey, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce president, said the county needs more greenways to enhance the quality of life for residents.
"It is a great opportunity for Toronto. We are giving to Toronto, not taking away," Hershey said, adding the proposed trail will add to property values.
Dr. Frank Petrola, county health commissioner, noted the county ranks high in the state for obesity, heart disease and diabetes. He said a walking trail can help improve the health of residents.
Larry Copa, Toronto service director, opposed the measure, complaining that those speaking in favor don't live in Toronto. He cited possible economic development of the former power plant and trucks having to travel city roads. He said the city has an ordinance forbidding through truck traffic. But he said he is against closing the road for the safety of the city's children and adults.
County Engineer James Branagan said after the public hearing he doesn't know when the road will be closed officially. He says he'll have to determine how barriers will be constructed to prevent motor vehicle traffic.
"We'll have to do it in a safe manner," he said.
See Friday's edition for more details