EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — After months of work, East Taggart Street reopened to all-day traffic on Monday.
It was a welcome sight for residents and business owners in East Palestine. The street has been shut down since the February train derailment.
“I thought we’d be open in four weeks, the way they made it sound –like we were just going to burn this off. I thought March or April for sure,” said Ann Doss, an East Palestine business owner.
At first, Taggart needed to remain closed to the public until the fires could all be extinguished and the wrecked railroad cars removed from the scene. But then came the very long process of removing tons of contaminated soil and water using heavy trucks.
“Not only for the public driving through but for the workers down there working. The truck coming in and there were upwards of 100 trucks a day coming in and out of there,” said East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick.
The weeks and months went by and businesses in town were suffering. Doss said her gas station lost thousands of gallons in fuel sales. Others like Bob Figley, who owns Brushville Supply across the road from ground zero, are asking themselves if customers will come back.
“We don’t have a good answer for it. You can’t go back. You can’t go back and make it the way it was,” Figley said.
“I don’t know that they will or they won’t. It’s been nine months,” Doss said.
In the meantime, the cleanup work there is still far from over. Members of the incident command center, including the fire chief, still talk to each other every morning.
“They’re doing well so far and however long that takes is how long it takes,” Drabick said.
The opening of Taggart Street is part of a phased reopening plan that began at the end of September when the street opened to overnight traffic only.
Drivers should still expect periodic traffic stoppages – around 15 minutes or more – during
daytime working hours to allow for truck traffic to enter or leave the cleanup site.
The final phase of the project is anticipated to begin at the end of the year where the road will remain open to traffic at all hours with only intermittent traffic stoppages.
Although a specific date is not mentioned, Norfolk Southern says the project is anticipated to continue through the first quarter of 2024 before reaching completion.