It appears that her "you could either get it gloriously right or horribly wrong," warning issued by Harriet Tregoning, principal deputy assistant secretary for community development at HUD, has created space for healthy dialogue about the $331 million “opportunity corridor” road project and its intentions.
At a forum on regional land use moderated by Steve Litt on July 28 in Beachwood, Cuyahoga County Planning Director Glenn Coyne expressed skepticism that a road designed to move west suburban commuters would deliver on its promise of improving the economic conditions of the east side. David Beach, also on the panel, expressed his position that if improving local economic conditions and highway access were the goals, then Carnegie Avenue would be the most highly developed street in Cleveland today.
The crux of the matter is, of course, the policy agenda of a state that routinely ignores the costs and overstates the benefits of building new roads.
Alternatives to driving need to battle against a hostile state government which holds the purse strings tightly (except when adding a new road). For example, the state tightened its control of projects that mitigate air pollution through transportation.
In Northeast Ohio, five counties and more than 100 small suburbs and towns vie for a $1 million pot of grant funds annually to improve cycling and walking. Compare that to $1 billion the region gets lavished on it for road building where the only strings attached is waiting in line. If a city wants to have a bike lane or better crosswalks, it competes against every community in the region for a Transportation for Livable Communities planning grant. Then, they have to hope for one of the coveted TLCI implementation grants. TLCI ran out of funds after seven planning projects in the coming year. While they are amazing and worthy, including the Midway bike/green lane network, the backlog with a $1 million budget will grow, and the timeline for building out an ambitious project like the East Side Greenway will stretch to decades.
Overly restrictive positions on biking and walking, tiny budgets, little staff capacity to write a grant will discourage small cities and towns from even applying for bike and pedestrian improvements.
The alternative would call for state funding to align with cities' clamoring to do more around bike/ped improvements. Also, the county and the suburbs could signal their intention through complete streets policies so that a bike lane cannot be deemed illegal. Today, if a city like Lakewood wants to paint a bike lane on Madison Avenue it has to wait a year after the project is complete and do it practically under the cover of darkness. It does so under the threat of losing its funding from ODOT. Or when a city like Shaker announces its intention to fix dangerous Lee Road with a road diet and add bike lanes, it will be allowed do so without the multi-year and exclusive TLCI process.
Complete Streets help cities exercise their home rule authority. They are on solid footing since 2014 when the Federal Highway Administration adopted a guideline on road diets. Washington expects local communities to understand best and be in a position to implement their plans to make streets safe for all vehicles, and in the process make them more pleasant places. In turn, a complete street has proven to outperform incomplete streets on a number of levels. To change the landscape might involve a restructuring of ODOT. The agency is due for an upgrade anyway—it will have to respond to new federal guidelines on performance measures. U.S. DOT expects Ohio to fall in line with new policy—to start measuring lifecycle costs of infrastructure. As an aside, a recent conversation with a state representative confirmed that state lawmakers are starting to discuss how they will introduce performance measures into budget considerations. Under the new rules, Ohio would have to make clear the need and bring in line the cost to build and maintain roads like Opportunity Corridor before green lighting it.