Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Innerbelt Redesign at a Stand Still - 2 Year Delay

As reported in todays Plain Dealer, the State of Ohio has delayed the Innerbelt redesign because of costs over runs and design flaws.

Ohio delays Inner Belt redesign; city officials applaud

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Susan Vinella
Plain Dealer Reporter

Commuters can expect an extra year or two of traffic snarls on the Inner Belt and continued danger at Dead Man's Curve, the most perilous stretch of highway in Ohio.

The state will delay for up to two years the launch of Cleveland's Inner Belt redesign project to deal with rising costs and design flaws.

The state also might scale back renovations of the Inner Belt Bridge over the Cuyahoga River. Instead of fixing the bridge to last 50 years, at a cost of $266 million, the state proposes a 20-year rehab.

"The downside," says an Ohio Department of Transportation memo obtained by The Plain Dealer, "is that in 20 years, ODOT will have to fund a second bridge."

To some local officials and downtown business leaders, delaying the highway redesign means the state finally has recognized the flaws of its plan and will work with the community to fix them.

"They heard us. They recognize there are issues, and they want to talk to us about them," said Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, who represents downtown and has been critical of the plan.

Cimperman and others in Cleveland say the state's proposal to eliminate key downtown exits off Interstate 90 and alter others will hurt businesses, impede traffic and hamper economic development. The state also plans to straighten Dead Man's Curve to make it safer.

The memo says the Inner Belt Bridge project will be delayed from 2009 until 2010 or 2011, to allow more time to resolve conflicts over intersections. It says intersection designs near Jacobs Field and other locations must be modified.

One change, the memo said, could be a different ramp from Ontario Street to westbound I-90. The memo also says the state wants to scrap a $30 million plan to build a bike path on the bridge because of safety concerns.

Lora Hummer, a spokeswoman for the local office of the Ohio Department of Transportation, said no officials were available Tuesday to discuss the reasons for the delay or possible changes in the plan. David Coyle, a deputy director in the local office, declined to provide specifics when reached at home.

Jim Haviland, who represents businesses in the Midtown neighborhood as executive director of Midtown Cleveland Inc., said he's pleased the state is taking more time to evaluate its plan.

"Clearly they're listening and re-evaluating and are coming to similar conclusions that we've had for some time," Haviland said. "That's the best news for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio at this particular point in time."

City Council will hold a hearing on the Inner Belt project on Nov. 1.

This figures, I had just finished reading the billion page plan update this weekend, including all of the options that were taken off the table early on. It could have just been a snowball effect, but from what I saw, they looked at all options (within there limited vision).

Not that it matters now, but these were the section alternatives that were being/not being carried forward as of the middle of August:

12.1 Innerbelt Curve Section
Innerbelt Curve Alternative F is selected to be carried forward as a Feasible Alternative analysis phase of the Project.
Innerbelt Curve Alternative E is not being carried forward.

12.2 Innerbelt Trench Section
The Far Eastern Alignment Alternative, the Chester Avenue (No Payne Avenue) Alternative, and the MidTown Corridor Extension are being carried forward.
The Minimum, Western Alignment, and Central Alignment Alternatives are not being carried forward.

12.3 Central Interchange Section
the Dual Intersections and Southern Alternatives are selected to be carried forward.
The Dedicated, Shared, and Indirect I-77 Connections Alternatives are not being carried forward.

12.4 Central Viaduct Bridge Section
The Northern and Southern Hybrid Alternatives are selected to be carried forward.
The Widen / Rehabilitate Existing Alternative with Clark Avenue Interchange is not being carried forward.

12.5 Southern Innerbelt Section
The Mainline Widening with Jennings Freeway Add Alternative is selected to be carried forward.
The Mainline Widening with Jennings Freeway Merge Alternative is not being carried forward.

12.6 C-D Roadways Section
The C-D Roadways Relocation Alternative including a Type II noise analysis for the C-D Roadways section, is selected to continue under ODOT’s noise wall and multi-lane reconstruction programs.

12.7 I-77 Access Section
The I-77 Access Improvements Alternative is selected to be carried forward.

12.8 West 7th Street Interchange Section
The No-Build Alternative is selected.
The Fully Directional West 7th Street Interchange Alternative is not being carried forward.

What does this mean to all of the stakeholders?

Well, the Cleveland Police Horse Stables will still have a home, as will the brand new Fire Department Training Facility. Tastebuds will be serving awesome food for at least two more years longer then first thought.

Meanwhile, many people think that likely change in administration coming to Columbus will be of great benefit to Cleveland. Some, like transportation guru and Sun News writer Ken Prendergrast, have even proposed their own plans that will not only correct many of the problems ODOT has claimed to want to fix, but "adds only 45 seconds to the travel time through downtown [and] opens up a massive development area that can help reimburse the state's costs of paying for the Inner Belt project."
(In the image, the black line is the Norfolk Southern tracks for the proposed Lakefront Bypass, and the teal line is an extension of the Waterfront Line to create a downtown loop.)

Some features of this new Innerbelt concept from Ken include:

> New routing adds only 45 seconds (or an additional 4,000 feet of distance) to the trip of an I-90 motorist passing through downtown.

> Assumes the Opportunity Corridor is built and that transit services to the suburbs are enhanced (such as regional rail, express bus, etc.).

> Demolished for the new section of highway are several old public housing complexes, Central Cadillac, a park and some additional structures. Each of these would be relocated or put back once construction is complete (public housing would be replaced with scattered-site subsidized units mixed with market-rate housing, such as where the Central Interchange was located).

> Access to downtown from the south and west is via an extension of State Route 176, which I've dubbed the "Downtown Access Boulevard" -- a landscaped, at-grade roadway north of the I-90/490 interchange that opens up land for development in Tremont and is less of a physical barrier between Tremont and Ohio City.

> The new Cuyahoga Valley Viaduct incorporates the NS tracks, which would become the Lakefront Bypass route for nearly all freight train traffic. The old two-track NS viaduct would be replaced with a three-track bridge and have about 10 feet more clearance than the old span to avoid opening as often for river traffic. In the new bridge, the lower rail deck only could be raised some 20 feet to clear even the largest of lake-borne ships.

> Sale of land on which the Central Interchange was located could net ODOT $1 million to $3 million per acre for the 60-acre site. This may win favor with the Federal Highway Administration, as the Federal Highways Trust Fund is faced with bankruptcy by 2009 (see ).

> The Inner Belt trench on the east side of downtown is a mix of ODOT's proposal to remove ramps, and the locals' desire to keep them. It continues ODOT's proposed access roadway south to near Community College Avenue.

> Also a new center exit/entrance for downtown-bound I-77 motorists only would be built just north of I-490 for an enhanced thoroughfare providing quick access to downtown. Location proposed is to use Broadway, but could be adjusted one block farther north to Orange. The enhanced thoroughfare would likely be no slower than I-77 is during rush hours, along I-77's last mile entering downtown.

> The new highway routing and demolition of the Central Interchange would reunite the Central neighborhood with downtown. Caps over the new highway would create a visually seamless neighborhood streetscape in the affected areas.