It was the news many in Kent had been waiting for, important word on a project that had been in the headlines for years -- and seemed to generate controversy whenever the subject was raised.
The long-awaited bridge over the Cuyahoga River and the two railroads running alongside it in downtown Kent appeared to have cleared a major hurdle 50 years ago when the Ohio Department of Highways gave final approval to the route for the massive project.
But it would be another decade before construction would begin, and another two years after that before motorists could get from one side of town to the other without worrying about being stopped by a train.
"Kent has a real opportunity right now to correct a traffic situation which most certainly will worsen as a result of the community's rapid rate of growth," the Record-Courier observed in an editorial on Oct. 23, 1963, the day after the state's approval of the bridge route was announced.
The editorial closed with a note of caution: "Let's not muff it!"
The newspaper had championed the need for a solution to Kent's traffic problem for years, voicing support for the proposal for a bridge spanning the Cuyahoga -- and bypassing the downtown area -- when Mayor Carl Meeker suggested such a project in 1954.
While Meeker's suggestion was the first official proposal for a bridge, the idea of "a high-level viaduct" on Summit Street spanning the Cuyahoga first was raised in 1923, one year after Kent became a city.
Traffic in the downtown business district was a problem, without a doubt. Motorists driving from the west end of Kent to the downtown area factored in "train time" when making trips to church, doctors and stores, and it wasn't unusual for trains to block the crossings at Crain, Main and Stow streets. A stalled train could back up traffic on both ends of Main Street, beyond the Masonic Temple and the Kent Theater.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks was choosing a route for the new bridge, which because of its size would drastically affect any neighborhood it passed through.
The route approved in 1963 came to be known as the "south-central route." It involved relocating 1.35 miles of S.R. 5, starting at the West Main-Longmere Drive-Stow Street intersection on the city's west side and running east to River Street, where the new bridge would cross the river and two railroads. The route would proceed northeasterly, bypassing the downtown business district and ending at the East Main-Willow intersection.
Another major unresolved issue noted by the Record-Courier was the cost of the project, which was estimated at $4 million in 1963 -- close to $30 million in today's dollars. It would more than double by the time it was completed a dozen years later.
Kent's share was $300,000, and the city had no apparent way of raising that except through a municipal income tax.
The idea of a city income tax was a political lightning rod. A 1 percent income tax was on the November 1963 general election ballot, and the R-C said its passage was "essential to the achievement of the bridge project." Voters thought otherwise. They turned down the income tax.
Kent City Council enacted a 1 percent city income tax following the collapse of the Crain Avenue Bridge on Dec. 18, 1964, and the funds it generated were used for both projects.
Even with financing assured, however, the planning process for the new bridge took years. It wasn't until Nov. 9, 1973 -- 10 years after the state had approved the bridge route -- that ground was broken for the new bridge. Two construction seasons would follow before it was completed.
While the bridge that the R-C had hailed in 1963 as a solution for Kent's traffic problem did make it easier for crosstown travel, it had unintended, negative consequences.
"The bypass" was a four-lane dividing line through the heart of the downtown area. The traffic it diverted from the business district took a toll there, hastening a downturn that had begun a decade earlier with the construction of shopping centers on the outskirts of town. Homes and businesses were eliminated in the downtown area, and the Kent State University campus was isolated.
The R-C's fears that Kent would "muff" the bridge project proved unfounded. The new highway, later to be known as Haymaker Parkway, opened on Nov. 13, 1975, and the Redmond Greer Memorial Bridge spanning the Cuyahoga and two railroads was opened. The bridge's namesake was the Kent mayor who was a prime mover for the project; his widow, Ruth, rode in the first vehicle that crossed it.
It had taken 12 years since the Record-Courier's words of caution the day after the bridge route was approved, but the first sentence of its 1963 editorial was an apt commentary on the opening of the new highway:
"Whew! It was a long time coming!"