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EPA criticizes Opportunity Corridor for glossing over impact

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/12/13 @ 1:15pm  |  Posted in Clean air, Clean water

The plan for the Opportunity Corridor categorically underestimates its environmental impact, the Environmental Protection Agency informed Ohio’s Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Supersize it<br />A land use study for the Opportunity Corridor called for 30-acre superblocks, but also improved pathways to transit Carless in CLE<br />The percentage of households without cars is very high in the area around the proposed Opportunity CorridorBuilding walls<br />The Opportunity Corridor calls for sound walls as seen on highways.Not so fast<br />ODOT presented this concept for Opportunity Corridor at a public meeting in October 2013

In a sharply-worded letter dated Nov. 14, EPA’s Region 5 Office warned ODOT that it has missed air and water pollution impacts in a region that is already struggling to fix these problems. EPA also scolds ODOT for being vague in how it looked for alternatives to the road.

The letter, penned by Kenneth A. Westlake, Chief of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) Implementation Office, unambiguously states that the plan needs to better consider its impact, but also how it can promote cleaner forms of transportation.

“This is an excellent opportunity to not only improve personal vehicle-based mobility but also access to public transit in the area.

“The Final Environmental Impact Statement should identify which, if any, rail transit stations or bus routes will be eliminated, re-located, or added along the project corridor (and) how residents who depend on these routes will be accommodated. EPA encourages consideration of additional transit options for this community, including additional bus routes and stops.”

The above passage refers to a proposed dead-ending of Quincy Avenue and re-routing of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) #10 and #11 buses which serve the area including a public housing estate. Reports have also surfaced that RTA is contemplating a closure of the E. 79th Street Red Line Rapid station for lack of funding to rebuild it in a way that is ADA compliant.

EPA—which must approve the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) before it can move forward—tells ODOT that the $330 million Opportunity Corridor should invest in access to transit in the corridor.

“Some GCRTA stations will require longer access paths. The DEIS is not clear whether the stations are accessible to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) population and what considerations were given...”

The agency, which participated in a land-use study of the area surrounding Opportunity Corridor that was initiated by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, also informs ODOT that making linkages to stations will enhance the re-use potential of vacant property around it for transit-oriented development (TOD).

“We recommend that ODOT coordinate further with GCRTA, the city of Cleveland, and HUD to consider TOD opportunities that could be specifically linked to this proposed roadway.”

Westlake echoes concerns from grassroots coalition Clevelanders for Transportation Equity which notes the corridor’s 13 intersections are too wide and cross-road closures will make it difficult for residents on foot, in a wheelchair, on bike or trying to make bus and train connections.

“The FEIS should clarify how mobility will be preserved or increased for the neighborhoods where streets will be blocked off.”

EPA reminds ODOT of a consent decree it signed with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to reduce sewage and stormwater combined overflow into nearby Kingsbury Run and the lake. It warns ODOT that the Opportunity Corridor, as presented, will likely violate that legally binding agreement by adding to the region’s water pollution woes. It recommends working with the Sewer District and supporting designs for large-scale green infrastructure that could put vacant land into use as a stormwater park.

Finally, EPA reminds ODOT that Northeast Ohio is in a “non-attainment” category for federal Clean Air Act standards. It recommends that ODOT specify how the soot from increased truck traffic will be mitigated.

Residents and Clevelanders for Transportation Equity will host public meetings this Saturday and Sunday to discuss these and other concerns about the Opportunity Corridor.

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Lee Batdorff
3 years ago

It's been over a month since this was posted. I do not recall that Allison Grant's coverage of the Opportunity Corridor in the Plain Dealer mentioned the EPA taking such a negative stance on this proposal. EPA's comments need to be used bring this proposal to more light and reconsideration.

Ken Prendergast
3 years ago

This is, dare I say, an "opportunity" to get ODOT to pay for relocating the East 79th station from an increasingly industrial area (based on recent property acquisitions) to the Buckeye-Woodland area where this is greater opportunity for Transit Oriented Development. This is the key message in the USEPA letter. Also, All Aboard Ohio is urging consideration of a redesigned East 105th station to accommodate longer trains and to better access potential development sites north of the station.

See All Aboard Ohio's letter at: freepdfhosting.com/8f1055f7ad.pdf

Slipstream
3 years ago

If Cincy gives back its federal funding for its streetcar, can Cleveland get that money to help fund making the redline an at grade streetcar along E. 105th and Euclid until E. 127th Street near Little Italy?

The Good King
3 years ago

Looks like Alison Grant of the PD is all over this on cleveland.com. BTW, my comment regarding Steve Litt's position on Opportunity Corridor is off the mark (his column generally seemed to be in favor of it, but that it could be designed better), but I do think that the PD's reporting on the roadway has not been objective and has been compromised by its publisher's position on the Opportunity Corridor's steering community. In any event, good reporting GCBL!

The Good King
3 years ago

We all know that the PD's credibility on the Opportunity Corridor has been compromised (heck, even Steve Litt is in love it). How do we overcome that obstacle and make sure that the EPA's concerns are addressed?

Akshai
3 years ago

Alison Grant from the PD will be at one of the community meetings, and the EPA's comments will be upfront and center. While we have known that there are serious environmental justice concerns, we also now have some validation from federal agency.

It will be incumbent upon ODOT to make sure that all EJ offenses are proportionately answered and accounted for with adequate community benefits, especially regarding public transportation access and improving air quality.

Holding ODOT accountable requires all hands on deck. EPA's comments are only a game changer if we make them work for us.

Opportunity Corridor
3 years ago

Has this EPA letter been brought to the attention of Steve Litt and the PD editorial board and reporters?

The Good King
3 years ago

Is this a game changer?

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