How OFBF members are working to change a law affecting road access

Farm machinery has not been allowed to use a portion of U.S. Route 20, or the Norwalk Bypass, in Huron County for many years. Recently, several farmers including two Huron County Farm Bureau members, John Brooks and Bill Ommert, submitted testimony on House Bill 249, which seeks to resolve the longstanding issue that has impacted farmers in that area.

The problem

According to Brooks, it all started in 1967 when ODOT planned to fix a heavy traffic problem in Norwalk with a super bypass. During the first phase of the bypass, farm machinery was not allowed on the bypass. However, money dried up for the project and the second phase was dropped, but the rule preventing farm machinery from using the road remained.

“Farmers need to travel from one side of town to the other, with only two ways of getting it done: go through downtown Norwalk or take South Norwalk Road. Both options are unsafe for the farmer and the general public,” Brooks said. “Downtown is very congested, narrow, and has great exposure to any kind of chemical spill, especially anhydrous ammonia, and South Norwalk Road being very narrow, curvy, populated and having very poor visibility.”

Ommert, retired director of emergency management for Huron County, also expressed his concern with the dangers of transporting hazardous materials through downtown Norwalk when there is a safer route.

“Columbus has a designated Hazmat route. Why can Columbus have this safety and Norwalk can’t?” he said.

Grassroots effort

Brooks, a past Huron County Farm Bureau president and current board member as well as incoming Huron County Chamber of Commerce president, said that efforts to open up Route 20 to farm machinery started 16 years ago with several unsuccessful efforts.

“This problem was presented to our local Huron County Farm Bureau where we voted and put into policy to help try and fix the problem,” Brooks said.

The county Farm Bureau’s advocacy efforts recently convinced Ohio transportation officials to visit Huron County in an effort to find a solution. While those discussions didn’t result in a permanent solution, they did lead to the introduction of legislation that will.

HB 249, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose, would grant farm machinery access to Route 20 without the need for a permit, allowing farmers to travel around Norwalk in a safer manner. The bill has received three hearings in the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and could be voted on soon.

According to Brandon Kern, Ohio Farm Bureau director of state policy, the hearings have provided the opportunity for Ohio Farm Bureau to help draw state-level attention to this local transportation issue.

“This has been a great opportunity for Farm Bureau to support our county Farm Bureau leaders in their efforts to solve a problem that impacts the community,” said Kern who also testified in favor of HB 249 with Huron County Farm Bureau members.