The Big Road Solution: A Critical Look at the Opportunity Corridor

The Opportunity Corridor is a $331 million road through the east side of Cleveland that has been presented to residents as an economic development project. The residents of these neighborhoods, such as Kinsman, are struggling with poverty (median household income $13,300) and serious health issues, including high rates of asthma and infant mortality rates worse than Zimbabwe.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) believes that neighborhoods have declined due to poor highway access, stating “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.”

This is in contrast to the reality that decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots and economic decline throughout neighborhoods. To get residents on board with their project, ODOT and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Cleveland’s chamber of commerce, told residents in a series of public meetings that the project would create 10,000 permanent jobs.

This statement was made after the City of Cleveland had estimated only 1,600 jobs. Furthermore, after the presentations GCP funded an economic development study that found it would only create about 2,340 jobs. Basically, GCP went into low income neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and promised an absurd number of jobs in order to get community support for their road project with no accountability. This alone should raise red flags.

The real barrier to economic Development is brownfield remediation and low interest loans. Businesses in the area, such as Miceli’s Cheese, were able to expand only after qualifying for low interest loans and grants that were used to clean up the brownfields. The Phalen Boulevard, a project said to be a model for the Opportunity Corridor, had years of brownfield remediation and anchoring tenants before it was built, but there is no brownfield remediation in the current Opportunity Corridor proposal.

The Phalen Boulevard also had no residential houses that had to be taken, whereas Opportunity Corridor has estimated that 74 residential and 44 commercial structures will need to be taken. It’s a slap in the face that “fair market value” will be paid to residents when market values have declined so much and many elderly residents already have their houses paid off. ODOT plans to provide only $52,000 maximum to residents to relocate.

Furthermore, 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 represents less than one-tenth of one percent (about .0015%) of the project’s budget.  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.

Another barrier to economic development is transportation. Over 40% of households in Kinsman do not have access to a car, and the corridor does nothing to improve public transportation, in fact it will create large walls around the East 55th street rapid station, which will decrease pedestrian access. In a recent Interview by Michael McGraw in the Cleveland Street Chronicle, Norman Krumholz, Planning Director of the City from 1969-1979 and professor of Urban Affairs at CSU, was asked what could be added to the Opportunity Corridor to benefit public transit users. Krumholz replied, “They could use the present configuration so that bus lines would be able to transverse the present proposal. Or, better yet, they could forget about the Opportunity Corridor entirely, and use existing streets, and connect more closely with existing public transit, and redevelopment efforts in the existing neighborhoods.”

For example – instead of using the Opportunity Corridor, which is supposed to cost maybe $350 million, that is an early estimate, it’ll probably run over $400 million by the time it’s done, they could simply improve the route from the hub at E. 55th St.” Krumholz recommendations are similar to an alternative to improve Woodland Ave that was removed in the early planning stages when no residents were involved in the initial planning. Per ODOT, “In the early planning stage, the committee was made up mostly of business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations.” In fact, ODOT was sued by South Euclid Councilman Marty Gelfand 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 and GCP could do a better job of being transparent.

Norman Krumholz suggested above that the corridor should not even be built, which begs the question is this project still relevant in 2014? People are driving less (Vehicle Miles Traveled has been declining for nearly a decade) and a new innerbelt bridge is going to be finished soon which will handle more traffic. There are also current plans to redesign the 5-points intersection of E. 55th St and Kinsman road, which would make the Woodland alternative worth reconsidering, especially if public input is actually taken into account.

Furthermore, why build a road to University Circle when there is already a traffic problem? Chris Ronayne, current president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI), recently stated “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 will create physical walls around transit stations and instead create new infrastructure to bring more traffic to University Circle. Is this really the best use of public funds? I don’t think it is, and recommend that the Opportunity Corridor be reevaluated with more transparency, honesty, and accountability.

You can read my complete report at http://eatrighteous.org/opportunitycorridor/

 

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