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Innerbelt might enhance if it doesn't choke off city

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/22/07 @ 10:13am

As Ohio Department of Transportation's Innerbelt Project Manager Craig Hebebrand presented updates to the Cleveland Planning Commission today, he was peppered with questions about the $1.5 billion plan’s impact on the city. Questions moved beyond improving highway safety, merging into economic development – another goal of the plan.

Questions centered around the impact of closing highway access ramps downtown at Carnegie and Prospect on businesses in Midtown. And, what will the addition of a new frontage road provide in the way of easing traffic congestion connecting to the highway?

Commission member and city councilman Joe Cimperman, whose ward includes downtown, repeated statements that big businesses like Applied Industrial Technologies (AIT), Central Cadillac, McDonalds, Cleveland Clinic and others have told him they will consider moving or will face hardships with the closing of the downtown ramps.

The city is a financial partner in building AIT’s corporate headquarters at E. 36th and Euclid, and might still be on the hook financially if AIT leaves, added former Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison.

“What we need is a vision, a city plan for the businesses and the area around the Innerbelt,” Morrison said. “The city needs to have a charrette to create that civic vision.”

A charrette is a design session where the public and professionals put pencil to paper to find out how well the Innerbelt fits into the city rather than the opposite. For example, will ODOT’s proposed two-lane “frontage” or marginal road get integrated into the city grid, or is it part of ODOT’s domain? Morrison asked. Beyond designing a better looking road, the answer will also determine if the cash-strapped city or the state pays for its upkeep.

Jim Haviland, director of business association Midtown Cleveland, told the commission that its own traffic studies show a failure at 12 intersections as a result of closing downtown ramps and the frontage road. University Circe, Inc. is joining with Midtown and the local community development corporations to oppose the closing of the downtown ramps in the current Innerbelt plan, he added.

Commission members hoped to re-evaluate the plan to see if fixing Deadman's Curve and the E. 22nd eastbound on-ramp, building a new bridge, and the extension of I-490 in the Opportunity Corridor will be enough to keep the downtown ramps open.

Other issues raised were ODOT’s objection to designing a 21st century bridge that includes safe and elegant accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians. EcoCity Cleveland’s case for the bike/ped path was raised, with commission chairman Anthony Coyne offering support for a relatively small set aside in the budget for the path.

“It’s ridiculous that we’re still having this discussion,” said commission member Lillian Kuri, who supports the bike/ped path because it strengthens the investment in the city and attracts people who are concerned about cool things. “Look at how so many cities, like Charleston, South Carolina, have done this on their highway bridges…they just consider it part of their network of streets.”

The commission stopped short of acting on Kuri’s call for a vote to formally adopt a recommendation for the bike/ped path on the bridge. Despite newly installed commission member Norm Krumholtz voicing some safety concerns, Coyne and Kuri support the path, but wanted the sign-off from city planning director Bob Brown (who had left the room) and the full support of city council.

One of the highlight moments of the morning came in an apt but offhand remark from commission member David Bowen. When reviewing crash statistics, Hebebrand stated the answer to reducing crashes is to fix the highway ramps. Bowen shot back: “Or, (people can) move downtown.”

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