An innovative inter-agency roadway project designed to foster transportation access and economic development is on track to help improve urban neighborhoods.
The Opportunity Corridor project in Cleveland, Ohio, will connect Interstate 490 and the city’s bustling, cultural-rich University Circle area via a new, 3.6-mile boulevard. The project also will spur economic development in the southeast Cleveland neighborhoods along its route known locally as the “forgotten triangle” due to the lack of economic activity. By creating an attractive, tree-lined boulevard bordered by businesses and homes, rather than a freeway, officials hope to draw attention, investment and jobs to this historically-declining area. An official ribbon-cutting is scheduled for June 2022.
The project has necessitated the purchase and demolition of numerous commercial and residential properties along the route, as well as the condemnation and cleanup of long-abandoned industrial sites.
It was important to both the city and the state that the neighborhoods not be adversely impacted by the project, and that any condemnation and demolition in the area be equitably coupled with efforts to revitalize the area.
Intense public outreach helped to shape the project’s planning and design, during which as many as 27 different possibilities were analyzed. All of the alternatives were evaluated against their economic development potential, their inherent transportation benefits, as well as impacts.
Residents wanted the project to complement—not divide—their neighborhoods. They also worried about its impact on local businesses, noise and traffic levels, and safety during and after construction. These considerations and other daily challenges informed the scope of the project and its role in the boosting the area’s economy.
The boulevard will be both well-lit and aesthetically pleasing, accented by plantings, architectural treatments on walls and bridges, and other artistic elements inspired by the locale. Pathways for pedestrians and bicycles have been added, bridges over rail lines and other roads have been built or rebuilt, and adjacent roadways have been improved. An existing rail station also was expanded, with a second elevator added for greater accessibility.
The interconnection of non-continuous roadways will help improve mobility in the 1,000-acre area, making it easier and safer to navigate. An existing recreation center is also being expanded. Those displaced by the new corridor have been compensated and aided in finding housing either in their home neighborhoods or elsewhere, depending on where they opt to live. The project also provides new frontage to support commercial businesses along the route.
Equity in planning and design has been complemented by equity in hiring. Local contractors and workers have been encouraged to join the project, and $500,000 was provided for on-the-job training. Notably, that training also extends to local residents. Anyone living in the impacted neighborhoods is eligible for this training, regardless of where they work.
The project already has garnered much local attention. It included the state’s first reader-friendly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and represents the first time that the Ohio DOT combined the EIS and a Record of Decision into a single action. It was also the DOT’s first time utilizing Environmental Justice mitigation to offset impacts to low-income and minority communities. HNTB developed the EIS, which presented the information to residents and the general public in ways that were easy to understand and visually appealing. The EIS now is used as a model in ODOT training and has provided a benchmark for future projects.