A call for the Opportunity Corridor to be reevaluated with more transparency and honesty
I currently live on the east side of Cleveland, and having worked with patients on the east side for years, I have always wondered what it would take to help our struggling communities. I did home care throughout these neighborhoods for a number of years, and the effect of being surrounded by blight constantly grated on me: Why so much vacant space? What would help these neighborhoods? Why is no one investing in these communities?
Last summer, as I continued to contemplate these questions in between dodging potholes on East 93rd and East 116th Streets, I heard on the radio that an unexpected source of funding had been found for the “Opportunity Corridor” from Ohio Turnpike funds. John Kasich, Ohio’s governor, was touting the benefits for the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals and how it would also “lend hope and economic development to battered neighborhoods.” Meanwhile, business leaders from the Greater Cleveland Partnership that lobbied for the corridor wanted specifics on when funding would be given so that construction could start as soon as possible. I wondered what exactly the corridor was all about, how it would effect residents of the east side, and why business leaders were hastily pushing for construction? Were the problems of Cleveland’s east side really as simple as building a new road? Also, why were business leaders lobbying for the project and more than residents or community development leaders? I never thought the answers would be complicated, but here I am, more than 6 months later, still reading about the issues behind the project. So, being a nearby resident of the Larchmere neighborhood and interacting with residents of these neighborhoods daily while doing home visits, I started to research the project.
What is the Opportunity Corridor?
The Opportunity Corridor is a road on Cleveland’s east side that is designed to connect Interstate 490, which currently dead ends into East 55th Street, to University Circle. University Circle has the highest density and employment besides downtown, but involves driving about 3 miles off the interstate to get there. There is a long history in interstate extension into University Circle, going back to the Clark Freeway. The Clark Freeway was originally proposed in the mid-1960s by Cuyahoga County Engineer Albert S. Porter. The proposed freeway would have run east and west along the Shaker Lakes to I-271 in Pepper Pike, with a north-south interchange at Lee.
Initially, there was large opposition in Shaker Heights, led by Mayor Paul K. Jones. Cleveland Heights was also affected, since the northern boundaries of the Shaker Lakes were in the Heights. Joining forces with Shaker, Cleveland Heights Mayor Kenneth Nash pointed out that the freeways would carve Cleveland Heights into segments, stating that the proposed elevated Lee Freeway, would create “a Chinese wall dividing our suburb from the north to south.” The next year, 1965, Cleveland Heights City Council passed a resolution against the Lee Freeway. In summer 1968, a new northern route for the Clark Freeway was proposed that would have touched only the northeast section of Cleveland Heights and left Shaker Lakes intact. The new proposal instead went though Richmond Heights and Highland Heights, and angered residents of those communities. In June, 1968, Cleveland Heights City Council joined with the other suburbs to call for a moratorium on all freeway building. Cleveland Mayor Carl B. Stokes also supported the opposition, having experienced population loss partially due to freeways. The battle over the freeway continued until January, 1970 when a crowd of 2,000 citizens, calling themselves Citizens for Sane Transportation and Environmental Politics (CSTEP), jammed a public meeting. The next month, plans for the Clark Freeway were scrapped. A key player in the Clark Freeway debacle was the editor and publisher of the weekly “Sun Press” newspaper, Harry Volk. Volk understood the devastating impact of freeways, and kept the issue alive with constant pressure in his newspaper. Volk once described the freeway as a “concrete and steel monster.” This is relevant because the coverage of the Opportunity Corridor in the Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s only remaining large newspaper, has been the opposite of Volk’s, generally very favorable.
The Opportunity Corridor was not always known as the “Opportunity Corridor”. According to ODOT’s Innerbelt Study (2004), there was initially a plan to extend I-490 from East 55th Street through University Circle and the east side north to I-90, known as “University Circle Access Freeway”.
The University Circle Access Freeway was scrapped largely due to costs, estimated property impacts and public opposition. Based on the recommendations of the Innerbelt study (which was based largely from data collected in the 1990s), ODOT decided that an “urban boulevard” – a new road with a wide median and traffic lights at intersections – should be further studied. So “University Circle Access Freeway” became “University Circle Access Boulevard”. Then a steering committee was formed and the the boulevard was designed and became the “Opportunity Corridor” that has currently been proposed. So who is on this steering committee and how did we arrive at the current Opportunity Corridor?
The co-chairs of the steering committee are Terry Egger and Jamie Ireland. Terry Egger is President and Publisher of the Plain Dealer. Jamie Ireland is a former Wall Street executive and the managing director of Early Stage Partners, a venture capital firm, and receives funding from the Greater Cleveland Partnership. It is concerning that Egger is a co-chair, because any serious criticism would likely not be printed in the Plain Dealer, a clear conflict of interest to objective media coverage. It’s safe to say that Egger was made co-chair to prevent the same type of negative press that prevented the Clark Freeway from being built as noted above.
Below the co-chairs are a steering committee. Per ODOT’s public involvement summary, “In the early planning stage, the committee was made up mostly of business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations. During the alternatives development stage, residents representing each of the study area neighborhoods were added to the Steering Committee.” In other words, one representative from Buckeye, Fairfax, Kinsman, Slavic Village/St. Hyacinth Community, and University Circle were added in the later stages of planning. Five of the thirty-one organizations directly represented neighborhood residents, with only one resident from each neighborhood present. At a glance, the affected communities look well-represented, but we know that one person cannot represent an entire neighborhood, especially not when they were added in the later planning stages.
Below the steering committee is Project director Terri Hamilton Brown. Hamilton Brown was the former president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI) when the steering committee initially met throughout 2005, then left UCI and joined GCP as the Opportunity Corridor Project Director, funded by $100,000 each from the Gund and Cleveland Foundations. She is also the wife of Darnell Brown (Mayor Frank Jackson’s current Chief Operating Officer). Looking at the past presentations, the Greater Cleveland Partnership logo was on all of them though it wasn’t clear who they represented. It turns out that GCP is Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce, which represents large businesses. Why is a chamber of commerce managing a transportation project? Aren’t the interests of large businesses different than residents of the Kinsman neighborhood (median household income $13,300)?
Watching the Opportunity Corridor promo produced by GCP, you can see how it appears that public input was incorporated and community representatives were on board with the the project. Vickie Johnson, President of Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, states “Of course it’s a roadway project, but it is not just about transportation, it’s about improving quality of life. That route has changed a dozen times, and it’s changed because residents and business concerns were listened to.” Was the public actually listened to? And how much of the project is actually about about economic development?
The Opportunity Corridor was initially developed behind closed doors without public input
The steering committee completed a series of meetings and workshops and initially developed 4 alternatives for the Opportunity Corridor:
Alternative 1 (pictured above in green) would widen Woodland Avenue and could extend East 105th Street south making a direct connection to Woodland Avenue. Alternative 1 is the closest to a no-build option. Alternatives 2-4 largely follows the existing RTA rapid train tracks, and may open up more vacant land for redevelopment. The preferred alternative was the a “hybrid” option, a combination of alternatives 2 and 4, which allow a loop interchange to be built underneath East 55th Street. This is preferred because it prevents drivers from having to wait a few minutes to make a left hand turn, but it will have a devastating residential impact on the St. Hyacinth neighborhood of Slavic Village and for users of the nearby rapid station. Is the aggravation of having to wait to make one left hand turn enough to destroy a neighborhood and inconvenience transit users?
Note that alternative 1 leaves the current street grid intact for all users. This is important because over 40% of households in these neighborhoods do not have access to a car. Furthermore, alternative 1 has the least “takes” (property that would be taken by the state using eminent domain), and is in line with ODOT’s “fix-it-first” policy. For all these reasons, wouldn’t it make sense to include alternative 1 for further study?
This is exactly the opposite of what the steering committee recommended. In fact, the meeting minutes from November 10, 2005 Craig Hebebrand, of ODOT District 12, stated “the recommendation of this study team is that we stop looking at alternative 1, which primarily follows the existing streets of E. 55th Street and Woodland.” Shortly after, Hamilton Brown (Then representing University Circle Incorporated) addressed the group and asked “if we can agree to take alternative 1 off the table. The group agreed and consensus was reached. Then the recommendation was formally made in this memo. At the same meeting Hebebrand stated, “In February, 2006, ODOT plans to take the data and concepts developed to this point to the public for feedback.” So at this point, no public input had been taken into consideration and an alternative, which residents may have favored, had been removed from further evaluation. Note that the steering committee in 2005 was mostly business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations, and had not yet included any residents.
Upon further review, there were some traffic concerns with alternative 1. Per workshop 1 notes on June 16th, 2005: “Andy Cross from City of Cleveland Division of Traffic Engineering commented that “the timing of the signals on E. 55th are maxed out and traffic is still a problem, so [Cross] doesn’t see how you could get all that traffic through the existing intersection, as Alternative One proposes. Matt Wahl (of HNTB Ohio Inc) explained that with alternative 1, an option would be to relocate the Kinsman leg of the 5-legged intersection to E. 55th south of the existing intersection, but it may still be a problem. model will tell us if it is a viable option.”
First, I could not find any model that explored if this was a viable option. Second, the point is moot now because ODOT is currently looking to redesign the intersection since it is rated the worst intersection for crashes within the five county area. There are a few alternatives being evaluated, with alternative 2D being the current favorite (shown below). This alternative would extend Grand Avenue to Woodland, thus connecting Woodland and Kinsman via Grand, and eliminating Kinsman from the five-points intersection. The first public meeting should be scheduled this month and all comments will be taken into consideration.
Just to recap, alternative 1 has the least property takes, maintains access for all users, and is more inline with ODOT’s “fix-it-first” policy. There were some traffic concerns with alternative 1 that were briefly noted with recommendations for further study, but no further study was completed. Shortly after, it was decided by Hebebrand (ODOT) and Hamilton Brown (of UCI, prior to being hired by GCP as project manager) that alternative 1 should no longer be considered. Hamilton Brown stated concerns with the traffic and lack of economic development. So far there have been no public meetings, only meetings with the steering committee: 2 committee meetings (May, Nov. 2005) and 3 committee workshops (June, Aug., Sept. 2005). Furthermore, ODOT is currently redesigning the 5-points intersection to improve safety and traffic. With traffic concerns being addressed, alternative 1 seems like a cheaper and realistic option, so why not evaluate it for further study? Bob Brown, Director of City Planning, disagreed, stating in workshop 1 that “If [alternative 1] doesn’t promote economic development, it may not be the preferred alternative.” In a recent series of public meetings, held independent of ODOT, Bob Brown, when asked why alternative 1 was not further evaluated, he stated that residents did not like it because it did not promote enough economic development. Bob Brown said this despite the fact that alternative 1 had never seriously been presented to the public. Furthermore, he claimed that the public said it didn’t promote enough economic development. That statement sounds awfully similar to the statement he himself made back in 2005.
Personally, speaking with residents of the neighborhoods, many seemed to prefer using existing infrastructure, so I am not sure why alternative 1 could not have been evaluated. South Euclid Councilman Marty Gelfand previously sued Ohio Department of Transportation to “find out how and why ODOT District 12 came to select that route and what, if any alternatives were proposed, especially the Woodland Avenue alternative.” Obviously, ODOT could do a better job of being transparent and I am not the only one who thinks so. Gelfand has also stated his concern that this may only be the first phase of the Corridor as the “University Circle Access Freeway” was designed to continue northbound through East Cleveland to I-90.
Is the Opportunity Corridor an economic development project or a road project?
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), completed by ODOT, states that the Opportunity Corridor must:
Improve “system linkage” – connections among the roads, neighborhoods and businesses – with an east-west arterial street between I-77 and University Circle
Improve mobility – the movement of people and goods – to, from and within the area between I-77 and the University Circle
Create the infrastructure to support planned revival and redevelopment in area in and around the “Forgotten Triangle,” which is bordered by Kinsman Road, Woodland Avenue and Woodhill Road
The following goals have also been identified:
Improve public transportation connections
Improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists
The first 2 goals, “system linkage” and “mobility” sound terribly alike, the only difference is that “linkage” refers to the actual roads that link to I-77 and University Circle while “mobility” refers to the movement of goods and people. So 2/3 goals of the corridor are related to access from I-77 to University Circle. The 3rd goal is redevelopment of the “forgotten triangle” neighborhood of Cleveland.
Tim Tramble, Executive Director of Burton, Bell, Carr Development Inc (CDC representative of the Kinsman area), has been skeptical from the start. In the GCP’s video (linked above), Tramble states “When I first heard of the Opportunity Corridor, I didn’t buy into it. How do we do it in a way that would be beneficial to all stakeholders?” Considering the project started nearly a decade ago, there must have been plenty of time to take all stakeholders’ concerns into account and modify the plan accordingly. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the the case as Tramble was recently quoted with similar concerns: “If the roadway was done right, it could bring opportunity. If it’s just an infrastructure project — and by all indications that’s what it appears to be — then it’s not going to do any good for the community, and we won’t leverage the highest and best use for Cleveland.” This is one issue with the Opportunity Corridor, it is a transportation project being sold as economic development to get the community on board.
Simply, there are two conflicting narratives that caused the economic decline of the “forgotten triangle” neighborhood. According to the recently completed Climate and Sustainability Action in the Kinsman EcoDistrict (October 2013),”decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots.” There have also been continued threats of a highway construction for decades. According to ODOT, it was not just the Clark Freeway of the 1960’s, but also “the Bedford Freeway (1970’s), WECO Roadway (early 1980’s), and SR 87A (late 1980’s).” After all, who would invest in a house if a highway was going to be built? The other narrative is the exact opposite, used to justify the Opportunity Corridor, is that poor interstate access has caused the economic decline. Per the Indirect and Cumulative Effects Assessment (ICEA), “By the middle of the 20th century, trucking had become more prominent in transporting industrial goods. This shift resulted in local businesses leaving in search of locations with better access to the interstate highway system, enhanced visibility and new infrastructure to support their business needs. The rail infrastructure that once serviced the industrial activity, along with the presence of the Kingsbury Run valley, now served as barriers to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian access and mobility. As a result, businesses closed or relocated, employment opportunities declined, and neighborhoods experienced disinvestment.” Per the University Circle Access Boulevard framework study (2003), “The boulevard appears to provide the opportunity for the area to go back to what it once was – good jobs and strong housing which historically follow good [interstate] access.” But is interstate access really the biggest issue preventing economic development, especially when over 40% of households do not have a vehicle?
The graph above (from the DEIS) shows the median household income by study area. You will notice that the neighborhoods that the Opportunity Corridor will travel through are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. For example, the Kinsman neighborhood (part of the mentioned “forgotten triangle” neighborhood) has a median income of $13,302. Not only are they some of the poorest neighborhoods, they also have some serious health issues. Kinsman also has an infant mortality rate worse than Zimbabwe (31 per 1,000). Furthermore, asthma rates in the area were 15.6% in 2009, nearly double the national average of eight percent. Air quality will only continue to decline with increased air pollution due to additional traffic from the Opportunity Corridor. There is also high unemployment in these neighborhoods. For example, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (via Policy Matters) the 2 census tracts of Kinsman near the “forgotten triangle” averaged a 54% rate of unemployment in 2013. So, how do you get residents that struggle with high rates of poverty, poor health, and high unemployment on board with any large project? You promise them jobs.
In the 2nd steering committee workshop in 2005, David Goldberg, of Ohio Savings Bank, “suggested that we get letters from University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University stating how many new jobs they will be creating if the Corridor is built and the neighborhood improved. He then stated that letters from the Cleveland Clinic and Bioenterprise are not a problem, but letters from outside will be a problem.” Again, we see that there are specific large businesses behind the corridor and numbers are being created to support the economic development aspect. A month later in the next workshop, specific job estimates were discussed. The City of Cleveland “estimated about 1,600 new jobs would be created as a result of the Corridor and proposed changes to existing land use.” Apparently, 1,600 wasn’t enough jobs for GCP.
Greater Cleveland Partnership lied about economic benefits
Though the public involvement slide above states that 13 steering committee meetings were held, there are only minutes available from 2 meetings and 3 workshops from back in 2005. Without the minutes, no one really knows what was discussed, and although there are brief summaries in ODOT’s Public Involvement Summary, the minutes would provide much more detail. There have been unsuccessful attempts to obtain copies of minutes in the past. In 2009, Roldo Bartimole, veteran independent reporter, wrote: “I inquired about meetings of Egger’s Corridor group. The answer came from Ms. Hamilton Brown: ‘The Steering Committee held a kick-off meeting on May 15 at the Plain Dealer…’ Well, isn’t that convenient for Mr. Egger. The next meeting was scheduled for Sept. 1 and was held in the board room of the Greater Cleveland Partnership… Not so convenient [for the public], especially meeting at 9 a.m. I asked for minutes of the meetings, [Ms. Hamilton Brown replied] ‘Minutes from the Sept. 1 meeting have not been completed and I am now out of town until Sept. 21. I will forward minutes from both meetings when I return to the office.’ No mention of minutes from the May meeting? Anyway, I don’t expect too much in the way of cooperation.” So no meeting minutes were provided for a few years. That is totally unacceptable for a publicly funded infrastructure project, but alas we continue. In November 2009 through March 2010, five neighborhood meetings were held. In each presentation economic benefits were summarized on the slide below:
So now, with no public documentation to support the claim, it had been announced to residents of Kinsman, Buckeye, Slavic Village, Fairfax, and University Circle that the Opportunity Corridor would in fact create 10,000 jobs. Of course, this was prior to any actual economic analysis, which was funded by GCP and completed in November, 2011.
You can see that the economic analysis found that it would create 2,339 jobs. That is more than the City’s estimated, but over 5 times less what was told to residents at the neighborhood meetings. The total numbers on the slide were originally jumbled together, unable to be read but was modified to show the correct totals. The Plain Dealer also cites the same study in this article.
This is not the first time that GCP has provided false information related to job creation. Alan Glazen, a retired advertising agency owner, worked with GCP to pass a “sin tax” in 1990. The “sin tax” was largely used to finance construction for sports stadiums in Cleveland. Glazen said he provided the community with false information in his sin tax ads. Specifically, he said, the issue’s backers [GCP] “lied” in promising 28,000 “good-paying” jobs, when the real number has fallen short. “We were hired to be the people sending that message out, and that message was not honest,” Glazen said. In fact, current GCP President Joe Roman estimates the actual number of new jobs created at between 8,000 and 10,000. Keep in mind that Roman is saying this when the tax is on the ballot in a couple months and there is strong opposition mounting as many believe that even less jobs were created.
You may also be interested in knowing a little more about GCP. According to it’s 2013-2014 Public Policy Agenda (page 23):
- GCP supports “further Cleveland City Council reduction and will engage with Cleveland leaders to impact this redistricting process”
- GCP wants to limit citizen’s democracy by preventing voter box referendum’s, stating “It is far too easy in Ohio to initiate legislation, initiate a referendum or amend the constitution via the ballot box. Ohio should not follow California’s example and allow this problem to continue and expand.”
- GCP also supports abolishing term limits, “Term limits passed through initiative, for example, already limit the strength of state elected leaders.”
Should we really trust that GCP has the best interests of Cleveland residents in mind when they have repeatedly lied to the public and made decisions behind closed doors? I don’t think so. GCP is a chamber of commerce representing large businesses, and business interests that may conflict with residents and citizens who use and pay taxes for the infrastructure. Furthermore, Cleveland Magazine recently asked GCP for renderings of the Opportunity Corridor. GCP refused to share the renderings unless the magazine assured that the story wouldn’t be negative. How can publicly financed project renderings be hidden from public view? It is imperative that GCP should not be involved in any future infrastructure planning given their lack of transparency and previous dishonest economic claims.
WHO WILL GET THE JOBS? WILL NEIGHBORHOODS BENEFIT?
Although there are no jobs guaranteed by the Opportunity Corridor and no one will be held accountable for lying to the public about job creation, temporary construction jobs will be needed if the corridor is built. Though this will mean some temporary jobs, it does not necessarily mean jobs for the neighborhoods most affected by the corridor. The City of Cleveland has a Memorandum of Understanding regarding community benefits and inclusion, but it is largely based on “good-faith efforts.” MOUs are “toothless” as they do not imply a legal commitment, making them largely unenforceable. City officials have been asked in the past to comment on community benefits for the Opportunity Corridor and deferred to ODOT since it is a state project.
ODOT does have an Affirmative Action Plan. “The Affirmative Action Plan uses the “four-fifths rule” to determine whether adverse impact exists in employment decisions. The four-fifths rule states, “A selection rate of any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths (4/5, or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate will generally be regarded by the Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact.” The four-fifths rule seems like a pretty arbitrary rule. Courts in the U.S. agree, and have questioned the arbitrary nature since the 1980s, making the rule less important than when it was first published. A recent memorandum from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission suggests that a more defensible standard would be based on a company’s hiring rate of a particular group relative to the actual make up of the population. This standard would make it easier to see if a selection system was systematically screening out members of a certain social group. Ideally, ODOT should change their practices to enforce that the make up of the construction jobs is similar to the make up of the construction area. For the Opportunity Corridor, it is such as large scale project that community benefit agreements (CBAs) should be made with each of the five neighborhoods. CBAs could specify minority business contracting goals as well as local hiring goals, job training programs, construction of parks and recreational facilities, affordable housing requirements, and further mitigation that address the traffic, increased pollution, and other environmental impacts of the Opportunity Corridor. The proposed mitigation from ODOT per the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) are below:
ODOT openly states that the Opportunity Corridor would “result in disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low income and minority populations” and has only offered 2 pedestrian bridges, a voluntary residential relocation program, and a half million dollars to the Woodland Recreation Center. The half million dollars given to the rec center would represent less than one-tenth of one percent (about .0015%) of the total Opportunity Corridor budget of 331.3 million dollars. Additionally, the pedestrian bridges and residential relocation program would not be needed if the corridor was not built. ODOT should be ashamed for the lack of community benefits given that this is such a large scale project. City of Cleveland officials should be more vocal in obtaining improved community benefits for displaced residents and for the neighborhoods that will be divided by the corridor.
THE REAL BARRIERS TO JOBS
The Phalen Corridor in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been referenced as a model for Opportunity Corridor. Phalen Boulevard took a different approach then the corridor. Instead of rolling full speed ahead, planners had 6 years (1995-2001) of brownfield remediation and anchored tenant development prior to starting construction in 2001. Brownfield remediation is essential because if the land is contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste from previous industrial use, it will need to be cleaned up (re-mediated) before the land can be developed.
Phalen also cost half the price per mile, had a smaller right-of-way (2-4 lanes), included both a bike trail connection and bike lanes, and did not take any residential structures. When asked why a similar approach was not taken for the Opportunity Corridor, a representative of GCP stated that Phalen was indeed a model for for Opportunity Corridor but said it could not be done in Cleveland due to challenging terrain (although no source was provided). Instead, the current recommendations for development are “superblocks”, chunks of 10- to 50-acres of land that could be developed as suburban office parks or for industrial use. Fred Geis, a prominent developer in Cleveland, had been asked his opinion of the Opportunity Corridor and he was skeptical. Geis stated it’s difficult to complete new office construction in Cleveland without subsidy, especially when “the suburbs are still offering space for $10 per square foot with free parking.” He also stated that urban industrial development is an “unproven market.” It is apparent the the Opportunity Corridor is not very similar to Phalen since no funds have been committed for brownfield remediation, no connection to the local bicycle network has been included (though Kingsbury Run trail has been proposed, there has been no recent discussion), no business tenants have been included, and over 70 residential “takes” are required. Neighborhoods could become even more isolated by the proposed “superblocks” that divide neighborhoods. The “superblocks” could actually decrease safety since the large offices will be vacant at nighttime.
While proponents cite the expansion of Orlando Baking Company and Miceli’s Cheese as a sign for development related to the Opportunity Corridor, the fact is that both expansions were planned regardless of the project. In fact, the project team met with the two manufacturers to discuss how the road could be changed to prevent any interference with expansions. In the GCP produced promo referenced above, we heard from John Anthony Orlando, of Orlando Baking, stating “this is a good area for us to expand our business, it has been our home for 30 years and will continue to be.” It doesn’t seem highway access has been a problem for Orlando Bakery either. In fact, the their location at 7777 Grand Avenue is currently only a 5 minute drive to I-490 per Google Maps. Rumor has it that Orlando has actually been delaying expansion due to the Opportunity Corridor. In that sense, the corridor is currently preventing jobs from being created.
If there was any barrier to Miceli’s expansion it was not highway access, but whether there would be funds for possible brownfield remediation. Per the Plain Dealer (2009): “The big question is whether Miceli’s can use the 12.6 acres, the onetime site of factories and a metal-plating operation. Last week, Cleveland’s City Council signed off on a plan to help Miceli’s conduct an environmental assessment of the property. The city will request a grant of up to $300,000 through the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund, which provides money for soil sampling and analysis of land that might be contaminated.” Currently, Miceli’s has completed phase 1 of it’s expansion, thanks in part to a $5.49 million dollar low interest loan that helped clean up the brownfields.
If economic development is happening already, why are there not more successful businesses in the area?
In a survey for the planning commission conducted by Burton Bell Carr, multiple community stakeholders and nearby businesses were given a questionnaire asking what would need to happen in order to expand (pictured above). Almost all of them mentioned a need for grants or low-interest loans, and none mentioned a need for increased highway access. The same was true for Miceli’s Dairy to expand. The lack of financial commitment for brownfield remediation and for the local business community shows a lack of commitment to true economic development. If the project truly had an interest in economic development, it would encourage low-interest loans and minimize property “takes”.
WILL RESIDENTS BE FAIRLY COMPENSATED FOR THEIR HOMES?
ODOT has assured that residents and businesses that need to relocate due to Opportunity Corridor will be fairly compensated. ODOT has put together a brochure, “When ODOT Needs Your Property,” which states: “At a minimum, compensation will consist of an amount for the part taken. The estimate of compensation for the part taken is determined by the fair market value of the property taken… To estimate fair market value, ODOT will utilize an appraiser who is familiar with value of real estate in your particular location or neighborhood and who is experienced in appraising your type of property. The appraiser will consider various appraisal techniques, one of which consists of comparing your property to other similar properties which have recently sold in your area.” This is a problem because housing prices have been in steady decline for years. A lot of residents in the neighborhoods are elderly and have paid their mortgages off when housing prices were higher, so using current fair market value, residents could lose money. Estimated actual amounts that residents and business will receive when relocating can be found in the Opportunity Corridor Relocation Assistance Program Survey.
Per Owner Occupant:
$35,000 + Increased Interested & Accidentals ($12,500) and move costs ($4,500) = $52,000 maximum
Using these numbers it appears that residents will only be paid at most $52,000. Apparently ODOT had already started the eminent domain process within a week after public comments were collected (comments were due by 10/31/2013, the article was published on 11/5), continuing to show how that public involvement was never taken seriously. Opportunity Corridor will actually cause four businesses to close and it is unclear if the amounts given for reestablishment will be adequate for each specific business. Is this the economic development that was promised?
Is the Opportunity Corridor still relevant in 2014 and beyond?
We have discussed the lack of economic impact, concluding that the Opportunity Corridor is a transportation project. The question remains, in 2014 does the benefits of the corridor justify the costs?
This is ODOT’s explanation of the project history from the DEIS: “In early 2001, east-side workers who lived west and south of downtown told the Innerbelt study team that they wanted a connection from I-490 to their workplaces without having to travel the indirect route on the Innerbelt Freeway and through downtown. The workers’ comments, combined with concerns about local access, convinced ODOT to begin the Cleveland Opportunity Corridor study” (1-5 of DEIS). It is interesting to me that ODOT would start a new multimillion dollar project because east-side workers want to increase auto access into University Circle given that University Circle already has too much traffic. In the recent article from February 2014, Chris Ronayne, current president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI), states “One-third bike, one-third transit and one-third auto is the commuting goal into University Circle. That’s a reasonable objective.” So the president of UCI is calling for reduced auto traffic in University Circle, while the Opportunity Corridor (priced at $331 million) will create new infrastructure to bring more traffic to University Circle. This is on top of the fact that according to a recent report completed by TomTom, Cleveland ranks 60th out of 61 cities for traffic congestion. In other words, Cleveland doesn’t have a traffic problem. If you think Cleveland has a serious traffic problem, I would advise you to go to Philadelphia or New York, where traveling a few blocks in a car can take 10-20 minutes and there are only a couple of major freeways nearby.
Furthermore, Cleveland is already in the process of building two new innerbelt bridges which will increase capacity by 25 percent, further alleviating Cleveland’s traffic. Also, nationwide trends show that Vehicle Miles Traveled have dropped for the 9th straight year, meaning that Americans are driving less. This is important because the Corridor was originally based on the The Innerbelt Study (2004) which relied on “several accident studies done in the early ‘90’s, and available recent (1998) data.” This data should be re-evaluated in current studies, especially since it’s common practice for DOTs to overshoot driving. For example, the 1999 Conditions and Performance Report to Congress reported that DOTs overshot 2012 reported VMT by more that 22 percent — almost 11 extra states’ worth of driving. DOTs predict traffic using simple linear algebra that often overshoots actual driving trends.
Furthermore, it would cost around $300 million to bring Cleveland’s roads up to acceptable industry standards. As mentioned above, current policies state that “ODOT is committed to the preservation of its existing infrastructure by embracing a ‘Fix-It-First’ strategy. According to ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council: Preservation and management of the existing system shall be accomplished by funding system preservation needs first and providing funds for new construction only after the basic maintenance needs of the existing transportation system are being achieved. Any driver in Cleveland can tell you that the basic maintenance of existing roads is not being met. Is ODOT legitimately taking these facts into consideration before spending $331 million dollars on a new road that will bring more traffic to an already congested University Circle?
Even the goals of the Opportunity Corridor itself are not being met. The first goal of the corridor is to improve “system linkage” and connections among the roads. The Opportunity Corridor will actually create nine new dead ends. One dead end is East 89th street. which currently runs all the way from Buckeye Road north past St. Clair to MLK drive. East 89th has some traffic, but it is a good north-south cycling alternative to the busy (and poorly maintained) East 79th Street and East 105th streets.
Another major decrease in system linkage is the closure of Quincy Avenue between East 105th Street and Woodhill Road. As requested by the City of Cleveland, access for bicycles, pedestrians and emergency service providers would remain on Quincy Avenue. There are commuters, including doctors from Shaker Heights, that use Quincy to get to the Cleveland Clinic and East 105th Street. Overall, the Opportunity Corridor will decrease system linkage and could increase traffic time by automobile, especially if there is a major accident. ODOT has not conducted any time saving study and does not plan to. This is concerning since east-side workers wanted a direct link, but no guarantee that the road will save travel time.
What about transit, cycling, and pedestrians?
The closure of Quincy Avenue traffic circle would also affect existing bus stops because the 1,600 residents of Woodhill Estates mainly rely on public transportation. Because the Woodhill Estates are located north of Woodland Ave, buses would have to go past the estates, turn around, and go back south to Woodland Avenue, creating a delay for all users of the #10 (E 93rd and E 105th) and #11 (Quincy-Shaker Square) bus routes. I spoke to over 30 residents of the Woodhill Estates after the draft DEIS for the Opportunity Corridor was announced, and not a single resident was aware of the closures though it would negatively affect their daily routine. One resident has her children take the #10 bus north to Glenville schools daily, some residents send their kids on the #11 bus route to schools in Fairfax, while other residents need the bus to get to Tri-C. The #10 is one of the few 24/7 RTA routes, and both routes are highly used, with over 2,000,000 riders in 2011. Any cuts or delays to any bus route is unacceptable, especially since objectives of the corridor include: “improving connectivity among transit facilities such as GCRTA stations” and “supporting redevelopment plans that could increase patronage within the transit system.” Overall, there would be major impacts the commuters who use Quincy, thousands of public transit users, and all residents of the Woodhill Estate homes, though ODOT writes off the closure of Quincy Avenue as a minor concern.
The following are also goals identified in the Opportunity Corridor DEIS:
Improve public transportation connections
Improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists
The only mention of public transportation in the DEIS states: “The Cleveland Opportunity Corridor project would benefit public transportation. In fact, one of the goals of the project is to provide better connections to public transportation, including existing GCRTA stations. The project would also improve the vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian connections to existing facilities such as the East 55th Street and East 79th Street rapid transit stations and existing bus stops. It would also provide the infrastructure needed to support the city’s redevelopment plans, which would increase use of the existing public transportation system over the long-term.” (4-23 of DEIS)
Read this statement a few times and try to get anything concrete out of it — the only thing I can make of it is that vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian connections to East 55th Street and East 79th Street rapid stations will be improved, and existing bus stops will remain intact. So despite no increase in services, we have increased vehicular access. First, most transit users do not have access to a car or they would not be using public transportation. Second, over 40% of households in the study area do not even have access to a vehicle. Enhanced vehicular access is of little benefit for most transit users and residents.
Next, ODOT claims that there will be increased bicycle and pedestrian connections to East 55th and East 79th Street rapid stations. To get to the East 55th Street rapid station, ODOT had originally proposed walking south from Bower Avenue and around the new intersection back up to the station, which would take 3-4 times longer. That was until RTA raised concerns and ODOT agreed to a pedestrian bridge, which may not be ADA accessible. You can clearly see in the pictures below that the current walk from Bower Avenue is just a minute down the road, compared to having to cross the pedestrian bridge. After the corridor is built, the transit station will also be surrounded by walls due to the nearby roadway, making the station even less accessible. Overall, bicycle and pedestrian connections to East 55th rapid stations are reduced, making a rapid station that is already somewhat isolated become totally isolated.
ODOT states that existing bus connections would also be improved with nothing to support this claim. Actually, The opposite is true. Buses will face delays using the new East 55th street intersection pictured above. Furthermore, the current plan calls for closure on Quincy Avenue between East 105th Street and Woodhill Road, which will eliminate stops or cause a lengthy detour to serve residents of Woodhill Homes.
ODOT says that bicycle and pedestrian access to the East 79th street rapid would be improved. ODOT does not mention that East 79th Street station is currently not ADA compliant. Furthermore, Opportunity Corridor includes no funding for station upgrades, and if money is not spent to make it compliant by 2016 it will be forced to close. A better idea may be to invest in a new RTA rapid station, still within the “forgotten triangle” but more centrally located to housing (See “Buckeye RTA Station” below and this link for more information).
RTA has likely not invested in the Buckeye station due to lack of funding. It should be noted that Ohio is 7th in population nationally, and 12th in transit ridership, but 47th in state support for public transportation according to Jason Segedy, head of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study. Also, ODOT has reduced funding for public transportation by 83% since 2000. Overall, it’s concerning that while transit funding continues to be cut, new roads like Opportunity Corridor are being built. Keep in mind that RTA’s Euclid Avenue HealthLine generated $114.54 in economic development for every dollar spent on the bus corridor while Opportunity Corridor has no bus or transit service improvements.
The EPA shares many of the concerns noted above. The EPA wrote a letter to ODOT in November 2013 rating the current Opportunity Corridor a rating of “Insufficient Information” for environmental justice concerns. EPA is concerned that: minimal information was changed due to public involvement, lack of description of alternatives considered, need to coordinate further with RTA regarding transit access, need to increase multi-modal access, air & water quality impacts, community involvement, housing options, noise barriers, employment and community benefit agreements with each of the five neighborhoods.
A petition with over 700 signatures (over 500 on the internet, over 200 in print) was presented to Cleveland City Council in January to reevaluate the current Opportunity Corridor proposal. Though there was little fanfare, it appears that the city is currently working with ODOT on community benefit agreements and retaining the current connection between Quincy Avenue and Woodhill Road. In the meantime, you can also contact your council person or CDC, and express your concerns. Yes, the corridor is not a City of Cleveland project, but your council person/CDC should still listen to your concerns and be able to take them to ODOT with more authority then one concerned citizen. You can also contact the Plain Dealer and ask for more objective media coverage of the corridor, or write a letter to the editor. A grassroots group of citizens concerned with the corridor has formed, calling themselves Clevelanders for Transportation Equity. You can click on the link for more information.
The final DEIS is expected to be released early 2014, though it has not been released yet. Recent information has indicated that there will be upcoming public meetings to allow public input in the construction of the Opportunity Corridor. No matter how you feel about the project, if you are at all concerned, come to a meeting and ask for a more transparency and honesty now and in all future ODOT projects. Due to the lack of transparency, possible conflicts of interest with taxpayers, and a history of overly inflated economic claims, GCP should be removed from any future publicly funded infrastructure projects. Public funds should be managed by elected officials and not behind closed doors by private organizations with no accountability, such as GCP.