Rerouting Public Square Buses May Cost RTA $12 Million But Mayor Jackson Stands Firm

Mayor Jackson responds to the FTA letter in his office. [Phoebe Petrovic / ideastream]
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Mayor Frank Jackson is not backing down from his decision to keep Public Square closed to buses, even though that decision could cost RTA – Cleveland’s regional transit authority – twelve million dollars. The Federal Transit Authority recently sent RTA a letter demanding payment.

RTA confirms they’ve received a letter from the Federal Transit Administration accusing them of a “breach of a grant agreement”. This is actually the third letter sent since August.

The Feds say that by re-routing bus service around Public Square, the RTA has failed to comply with terms of a federal grant awarded back in 2004 for construction of the Health Line. Those buses used to run through Public Square, but were re-routed in 2015 to allow for the park’s reconstruction. In November, Mayor Jackson and RTA CEO Joe Calabrese declared the route change permanent.

The Feds say that’s not Cleveland’s call to make. They say the Federal grant legally binds the RTA to provide bus service along Superior Avenue, through Public Square. And if it doesn’t, RTA must pay back a portion of the federal grant. But Mayor Jackson’s holding firm, citing concerns over security and terrorism.

"Look, we don’t want RTA to be fined," Jackson said. "But I don’t want 20, 30, 40, 50 people to be run over by a vehicle in Public Square and I’m not going to acquiesce or agree to something that does not protect the interests of the public. I’m not doing that."

The Feds’ letter gave RTA thirty days to pay the debt—or challenge the claim. Jackson says they’re taking the second option. He says the City and RTA will jointly approach the Feds with a compromise--a plan to reduce costs and congestion, while keeping the Square closed to vehicles. 

But an advocacy committee called the Clevelanders for Public Transit have demanded Jackson reopen the Square immediately. And they’ve threatened legal action if he doesn’t.

Whatever happens, the clock is ticking. Just under three weeks remain until the debt becomes delinquent. 

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