Sunday, August 27, 2000

Workers proud of road job

Ft. Washington Way effort saluted

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kenneth Curtis looks at Fort Washington Way with pride, not only as an area resident but as someone who helped build the new $314 million highway and meet its tight deadlines.

        “I'm just blessed to be a part of it, even though us workers don't get a lot of the attention,” said Mr. Curtis, 46, of North Avondale who worked as a carpenter on the road trench.

        The project “gives me a lot of satisfaction that we could do this for the city,” said Mr. Curtis, a 15-year construction veteran.

        Saturday, the city and the company overseeing the Fort Washington Way project gave a little back, holding the traditional “top-off” appreciation party usually held near the end of a project.

        “Fort Washington Way is being talked about all over the country, because something like this has never been done before,” Roy Mendelsohn, construction manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, said in a speech to the workers on the plaza of Cinergy Field, which was decorated with green, white and orange balloons.

        “And it's all because of you.”

        The two-year reconstruction of Fort Washington Way is almost complete, even though many experts say a project of that magnitude usually takes 15 years. Most of the new highway, exits and side streets opened earlier this month — two weeks before an Aug. 31 deadline.

        After many 15-hour days, workers, who chowed on hamburgers and hot dogs, expressed as much pride in beating the deadline as any official would.

        “That's what we were here to do, and we did it,” said Ray Crone Jr., 34, an ironworker from Cleves who joined the project five weeks ago in the rush to finish.

        Most workers said they earned a lot of overtime in the final two months as deadlines loomed. In July alone, the project generated 241,862 work hours. The total on the project came to 1.8 million hours.

        “I know a lot of you are headed on cruises when all this is over with all the overtime you picked up,” Mr. Mendelsohn said.

        One worker sported a sticker touting his accomplishment of working 84 hours in one week, while carpenter Ken Yazell told of working 70 to 80 hours a week during July and August.

        “It all merged together at the end and everything went according to plan,” said Mr. Yazell, 39, who commuted an hour each way from Ripley in southern Brown County for the job. “It was a real surprise about the rush at the end, but I understood that they wanted to get people in for all the events and the ballgames. I was just glad to help.”

        Project officials estimate about 2,000 construction workers worked on Fort Washington Way. They figure at least 80 percent of those workers were from the Tristate, with some coming from as far as Texas and Canada.

        One worker got the perfect gift for his temporary housing. Ironworker Jeff Montville of South Bend, Ind., won a TV/VCR during the raffle held after the picnic. Other prizes included a weekend getaway, gift certificates and movie passes.

        He, too, takes pride in helping revamp the city's major artery on time.

        And now that Mr. Montville has seen how much construction work there is to be had in Greater Cincinnati — especially with a new Reds stadium to be built over the next two years — he's thinking about staying.

        “It was just dead up there, and here, I'll definitely be working,” said Mr. Montville, 29. “I like this area, and now that I've got a TV, my room is a lot nicer, too.”


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