KUNKLE: March 12, 2014: According to statistics provided in the Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report, over 49.8 million travelers utilized the James W. Shocknessy Ohio Turnpike in 2012 (www.ohioturnpike.org). The 241-mile toll way, stretching from mile 0 near the Indiana border, to the mile 241 marker on the Ohio/Pennsylvania line, the Ohio Turnpike provides fast and smooth travel across the Buckeye State, linking motorists with I-75, I-71, I-77 and I-76. Maintaining and keeping the toll way safe along the length of the Turnpike are eight Maintenance Stations, responsible for approximately 34 miles of roadway, from border fence to border fence.
Maintenance Zone 1, referred to as the Kunkle Maintenance Zone, begins at mile 0 and ends at the 33.3-mile mark, and is currently managed by Montpelier’s Benji Beck, promoted to his current position of Building Foreman in 2012. Mr. Beck has a family connection to his current position; his grandfather Seymour Beck was the initial Building Foreman on opening day in October of 1955, and held the position for 18 years, retiring in 1972.
According to the historical information provided on the Ohio Turn Pike Commission’s Historical Overview (www.ohioturnpike.org\history), ground was broken on the Ohio Turnpike on October 27, 1952. At peak construction, 10,000 workers were on the job using more than 2,300 bulldozers, graders, loaders and other road building equipment. Building the 241-mile highway took only 38 months. On October 1, 1955, the massive project was completed. Opening Day traffic totaled 44,000 vehicles. In 1956, the first full year of operation, some 10 million cars and trucks used the Turnpike.
Seymour Beck (1907 –2001) at the time of construction in what is now Maintenance Section 1, worked on the turnpike’s construction as a Road Grader Operator for the Ruby Construction Company, who built the section from State Route 15 to just outside of West Unity. In 1955 when the Turnpike began hiring Maintenance Worker’s, Beck’s in depth construction knowledge made him the perfect fit for the first Building Foreman position.
Seymour was married to Lucille Beck, and they had one child, Charles Richard (Dick) Beck, who currently resides in Montpelier. Dick reflected back on his father’s position with the Turnpike Commission and stated “ Dad really enjoyed his job and the people who worked for him throughout the years.” Dick also talked about the challenges his father faced in the early years before the weather reporting we enjoy now: “During Ice and Storm times he would be in the kitchen with his note pad and pencil checking the weather reports on the two radios he had set up, then checking temperature on the 4 thermometers he had mounted on the outside of the house; there were a lot of days he wouldn’t be home for 16-20 hours during the winter.” Dick’s wife, Jill Beck, still keeps Seymour’s Barometer in good condition and it holds a special place in the Beck home.
Benji Beck, the 3rd of Dick and Jill’s 5 children (Elizabeth, Brian, Benji, Ellen and Buffy), began working for the Ohio Turnpike Commission in January of 1990 as a Roadway Maintenance Worker. In 2003, Beck was promoted to the position of Assistant Foreman, and held that position until his promotion to Foreman in 2012. When reflecting back on his grandfather and the advice his grandfather passed along to him, Benji stated “ The mission and number one goal my Grandpa had in his time in the position and mine today are still one in the same, and that is safety; safety for my crews I have out on the road and safety for the traveling public as they transit the turnpike.”
Beck’s duties as Building Foreman include supervising the set-up of Construction Zones, maintaining the turnpike’s island and roadway from fence to fence, supervising cutting crews during the summer, and the always-challenging Winter Snow Removal. Though technology had made forecasting severe winter weather more efficient, the mission of the maintenance crews are the same as it has been since the opening year-keep the roadway clear and safe to travel.
When asked about the challenges of his position, Benji stated, “a lot of people are not aware that the Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) is a separate organization from the Ohio Department Of Transportation (ODOT). The Commission handles all matters pertaining to the 241-mile toll road. ODOT is the organization of state government responsible for developing and maintaining all state and federal roadways with the exception of the Ohio Turnpike. The maintenance, operation and security of the Ohio Turnpike are funded almost exclusively through tolls. It is important to understand that the Ohio Turnpike charges motorists on a user-fee scale, basing your fee on the type of vehicle you drive and the distance you travel. The greater the distance you travel on the Turnpike the greater your toll charge. Turnpike tolls are user fees, not taxes, and only those who use the Turnpike pay for it.” According to the Ohio Turn Pike Commission’s Historical Overview, the Ohio Turnpike receives no federal funding and only a small portion of state tax ($0.05 per gallon from gasoline purchased only at service stations on the Turnpike). This small portion of state tax money is specifically allocated to the maintenance and repair of bridges and overpasses that are state routes. From the Turnpike’s inception, no tax dollars are used for the Turnpike; the toll way was funded entirely through the issuance of $326 million in revenue bonds.
Seymour and Benji Beck have both played a key role in ensuring the Ohio Turnpike operates smoothly and efficiently, and most importantly safely for their work crews and for the traveling public. Under Benji Beck’s guidance, using the knowledge he observed from his grandfather, Maintenance Zone 1 will continue to be one of the safest sections of roadway in America.