Gahanna's South Hamilton Road bridge over Interstate 270 might not identify the city by name after all.

Gahanna's South Hamilton Road bridge over Interstate 270 might not identify the city by name after all.

City engineer Karl Wetherholt told Gahanna City Council on May 28 that the Ohio Department of Transportation is accelerating its schedule to increase the bridge's clearance later this year or early next spring.

Because of the recent failure of a proposed city income-tax rate increase, Wetherholt said, city officials are rethinking priorities concerning bridge enhancements.

If the project moves forward as originally planned, $250,000 would be needed later this year or early 2014 for the local match paid to ODOT, Wetherholt said.

The funding would come from the city's general fund and would be paid back by the Hamilton TIF.

The project would add six decorative lighting fixtures and replace two existing lights with decorative lighting. It also would add a fence that would display GAHANNA.

ODOT would pay for the design of the conduit and lighting support for all eight lights and for two replacement light poles.

Wetherholt provided City Council with reduced bridge enhancement at a cost of $35,000 that would add bases for six additional lighting fixtures and replace two existing lights with decorative lights. The fence would be eliminated, as would the Gahanna name.

"The reduced version would be to do ODOT requirements, putting in bases for all eight but only two of the poles," he said.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said she would ask for the reduced version.

"I don't see how we can pay for this," she said.

The idea of doing enhancements to the bridge has been a long-term desire of the development department, Wetherholt said.

"There was no real way to get it done without a funding source," Wetherholt said. "ODOT is increasing bridge clearance and has to redo the deck over I-270. That gives the opportunity to put the decorative feature on there. At that time, the Hamilton Road TIF is in its embryonic stage to pay for this."

Development director Anthony Jones said he estimates revenue would be generated from the TIF beginning in 2015.

Stinchcomb said city officials originally thought they had until 2016-17 to make a determination about the enhancement.

"We have to decide now what we want the bridge to look like," she said.

Council member Brandon Wright said the bridge enhancement is an opportunity for the city to brand itself.

"This all plays into planning and trying to get more people into the city," he said. "Gahanna has been stuck on doing things on the cheap. Keep an open mind."

Stinchcomb said branding is not a core function.

"I say that with regret," she said. "As we work on cuts for 2013 and on the 2014 budget, business still goes on. We're still dealing with regular decision-making. When we heard this project was being moved up, we needed to talk to council again."

Council member Karen Angelou questioned the benefit to the city for the full enhancement.

"It's an intangible impact," Jones said. "People become accustomed to where we're at. These sorts of elements provide community impact that allows business to be appreciative of the community pride.

"When you drive in a community with these amenities, you recognize them," she said. "If they don't have them, you recognize that, as well."

Wetherholt said City Council also could choose something between the full enhancement and reduced enhancement at a cost of about $80,000 to provide the necessary infrastructure for enhancements that could be added later.

"I think I'm looking at the middle option with a reduction but keeping an option to have enhancements in the future," Councilman Ryan Jolley said. "That's my own opinion."

Council president Stephen Renner said it's a tricky situation.

"We need to cut, and this is a capital project where we have a possible revenue source," Renner said. "What's going on in my mind. We have a contractor that will be mobilized. They will be doing work on the bridge anyway. This is an opportunity.

"I think we should weigh carefully about repealing and replacing and going to about nothing," he said. "I think we need to take a hard look at it."