Marc Lefkowitz | 01/11/07 @ 9:41am
The Cleveland Innerbelt Project is not merely a massive road rebuilding effort, it’s one of the biggest economic development investments in the region's future.
Put in stark economic terms, what is the cost/benefit analysis of the Cleveland Innerbelt Project? The financial cost—which includes building a new I-90 Bridge over the Flats, straightening out Deadman’s Curve and building a marginal road to replace the entrance and exit ramps downtown between Carnegie and Chester—is $1.5 billion in 2007 dollars.
Benefits include a reduction in business travel time and fewer accidents, which translates into 295 jobs for Ohio and a $37.3 million jump in real personal income, according to an economic impact study conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation. The study predicts the closure of the ramps through downtown will result in 37 job losses, but that the Innerbelt will generate 175 new jobs in Cleveland.
The study bases its conclusions on regional economic models, ODOT project manager Craig Hebebrand told Cleveland City Council’s Planning Committee this morning. Committee members questioned the study’s accuracy in projecting job losses. A more effective approach would be to conduct personal interviews of businesses in Midtown, Councilmen Mike Dolan and Zach Reed said.
“I think we need to ask businesses, ‘if they close the ramps, would you be likely to move or stay?’” Reed stated.
Council will ask the Ohio Department of Development to fund another economic impact study that takes this more fine-grained approach, Councilman Mike Dolan promised.
Adding 175 jobs for a cost of $1.5 billion is not good enough, Councilwoman Fanny Lewis added. She hopes new leadership at the state level understands this point.
Final approval of the Innerbelt Project is needed from Council before it can advance to the next stage of development. Based on the ramp closures and economic impact concerns, committee chair Joe Cimperman hinted a vote today would be ‘no’.
City engineers will examine the plan again, Dolan said, with the hope of improving it to respond to the concerns of the business community in Midtown and others.
In contrast, a statement from Mayor Frank Jackson’s office says city engineers already concluded that ODOT’s concern for safety (in the Innerbelt Trench) is founded and, as it exists today, there is no safe way to reestablish ramps at Carnegie Avenue and Prospect Avenue.
The marginal or frontage road will relieve the pressure on the street grid from closing the downtown ramps, Hebebrand adds, except at two intersections: E. 9th Street and Carnegie and at E. 30th and Chester Avenue. Traffic jams are predicted there with the new plan, but can be handled in the detailed engineering of the next phase, he adds.
Traffic jams and negative economic impact are not acceptable, Lewis said. Cleveland has an obligation to improve itself and generate local jobs, not help motorists speed through the downtown area.
The proposed Opportunity Corridor, a six-lane boulevard from I-490 to University Circle through Cleveland’s Forgotten Triangle, should be a higher priority, Councilman Matt Zone said. Building it first could relieve some of the traffic pressure through downtown, Hebebrand agreed, but probably not enough to keep ramps open.
Impacting the meeting was the news that Governor Strickland today fired all ODOT district director appointees, including Northeast Ohio’s District 12 director David Coyle, and that ODOT director Gordon Proctor resigned. While the impact on the Innerbelt remains to be seen, Cimperman told the Plain Dealer that he’s hopeful the new administration will help settle some of these controversial issues with the Innerbelt.