Does Cleveland Need a Major New Road? Debating the Opportunity Corridor

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Supporters say the road will better connect University Circle and east side neighborhoods to the entire region.

As the plan now stands, the road would have sidewalks, a path for bikes and traffic lights. Also, more than 60 residential buildings will be knocked down to make room for the road.

That includes Joyce Hairston’s home in Slavic Village. Hairston says at first she was leery of the plan. But she started attending public meetings, and joined the steering committee.

HAIRSTON: “I went well, I don’t know if I’m gonna choose this, but it looks like here it is, it’s going to happen, so, all right, let’s go to the meeting, let’s see what this is about. All right, well if it’s going to happen, I want to see this and I want to see that.”

Now she supports the project. And she says maybe the neighborhood could use it. When she finally does move, she says, she’ll be reimbursed.

Councilman Tony Brancatelli sees the road as a way to connect business in his ward with the surrounding area.

BRANCATELLI: “This really adds a lot of value to move product in and out. So it does help create jobs, and it does use vacant and abandoned land in a way that couldn’t be used more appropriately until we have this built in.”

Deb Janik at the Greater Cleveland Partnership says the road will do more than just give drivers a straight shot from the highway to University Circle. She cites a 2011 study that projects 2,300 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new payroll in the Cleveland-Akron area. But she says the project has to help the neighborhoods where it's being built, too.

JANEK: “We have to make sure this works for those neighborhoods. And we have to make sure that we’re putting investment back into an area that has storied tradition and rich history and committed residents.”

Including planning, the project is estimated to cost $331 million. Most of that money would come from Turnpike bonds -- if the project's application is approved. Other funds might come from Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland and private donations.

While the project enjoys support from some prominent Northeast Ohioans, it’s not without its detractors.

SINGH: “I’m Akshai Singh, with the Northeast Ohio Sierra Club, and Northeast Ohio Transit Coalition.”

SCHMITT: “I’m Angie Schmitt. I’m a writer for the national transportation advocacy group Streetsblog.”

Akshai Singh drives Angie Schmitt and me down Cedar Avenue, which runs parallel to Euclid and is one of numerous roads that drivers can take from the highways to University Circle.

As we rumble over potholes and cracks in the road, Singh imagines the change you’d see in the neighborhoods if you spent $300 million fixing the roads already there, and improving access to public transit.

SINGH: “Four lanes, all in bad condition, all that could be used to route traffic back and forth. You could do a nice streetscape and repave, and really try and bring this street back into the fold.”

Cleveland is beginning to revamp Cedar and a number of other streets. But Angie Schmitt says there’s a bigger question to ask: Does Cleveland need more roads at all?

SCHMITT: “Our population is shrinking, the amount of money we have to take care of those roads is shrinking, yet we still seem to be sort of stuck in the past and stuck in an old mentality about this.”

The way she sees it, the project isn’t really designed to help people who live along the route.

SCHMITT: “I think it’s to speed suburban commuters through poor neighborhoods.”

Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland isn’t totally at ease with the idea of this road cutting through her ward. But if the road is going to be built anyway, she says, she’s trying to make it work for her constituents.

CLEVELAND: “My focus is on how do we make this work for the community. And make the Opportunity Corridor an opportunity for people who live and work along that roadway.”

For her, that means making sure that when this project is finished, the business groups and city leaders who backed it stay invested in supporting the neighborhoods.

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