When Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials recently asked business leaders from across the state to rank their region's planned infrastructure projects by importance, the Greater Cleveland Partnership ranked the
project as the number one priority for Northeast Ohio.
For City of Cleveland Planning Director Bob Brown, that's one more reason why ODOT's numbers don't add up. The state agency gave the city 0 out of 10 points in the "economic development" category on its recent application for $28 million in additional funding to complete Phase II of the project.
"States all across the country are beginning to think differently, and they're realizing that projects like this can actually improve their economic competitiveness," Brown said at a recent community meeting to discuss the project. The 10-year-old plan would transform the underutilized, 50s-style freeway into a landscaped boulevard with bicycle and pedestrian pathways. It would also offer residents and visitors improved access to Lake Erie.
As evidence of economic impact, city officials cited Battery Park, a new home development that has attracted 70 new residents, many of whom bought homes because they believed the West Shoreway project would come to fruition. Phase I of the Shoreway project is underway, and includes the redevelopment of two pedestrian and bicycle tunnels and a new interchange at West 73rd Street.
Residents who attended the meeting also questioned ODOT's cost estimates, which have ballooned from $50 million in 2003 to $100 million today.
"ODOT doesn't have enough controls against contractors coming back for more," Ken Silliman, Chief of Staff for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, told the audience. "We believe their contracts are too contractor-friendly. That's why we're trying to convince ODOT to give us the funding and let us manage the project locally."
Cycling advocates who attended the meeting also questioned the city's commitment to bike and pedestrian access, suggesting that Cleveland hasn't fought hard enough to fund the project's multi-modal pathway.
Adopting a mantra of "Keep the promise, finish the job," City officials vowed to press on with the project. They are planning a caravan trip to Columbus on December 15th for a crucial ODOT meeting where funding decisions occur.
Source: Ken Silliman, Bob Brown
Writer: Lee Chilcote