Dear Frank Jackson: Quitcherbitchin'
The State of Ohio has any number of super-mega-big ticket transportation needs on its plate. The Brent Spence Bridge that carries I-71 and I-75 across the Ohio RIver is deteriorating and is going to need a multi-billion dollar replacement. The Innerbelt reconstruction in downtown Cleveland is proceeding with the first step, replacement of the rickety bridges that carry I-90 across the Cuyahoga River valley, under way. In Columbus, re-construction of the interchanges between I-70 and I-71 has commenced, in an $800 million construction project so massive, and with so many lane closures, detours, and orange barrels, that it's referred to as "Crawlumbus." In Toledo, the "Systems" interchange between I-75 and I-475 is in need of re-construction, as is the Central Interchange in downtown Akron between I-77, I-76 and State Route 8.
Meanwhile, the federal gas tax has not increased since 1993, and inflation has eaten up one-third of the State of Ohio's last 6 cent a gallon increase in the gas tax from the Taft administration. Clearly, ODOT faces tremendous challenges garnering the resources to keep our transportation system afloat.
So, what is Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's beef with ODOT? Well, City Hall's highest proirity transportation project in Cleveland right now is not one that would keep a rickety bridge from falling down, but rather, for asthetic purposes. Mayor Jackson wants to turn the West Shoreway, a 50 MPH freeway that carries US Routes 6 and 20 and State Route 2, into a 35 MPH boulevard, providing pedestrian access, bike paths, and a more pleasant atmosphere to allow Clevelanders to enjoy the lakefront. A worthwhile project, to be sure, and that's why ODOT committed $50 million to it in the middle of the last decade. But now, most of that money will be spent on a single aspect of the project: an underpass under the Norfolk Southern RR tracks to allow residents of the newly rebuilt Battery Park neighborhood access to the lakefront. The cost for this underpass has ballooned from $15 million to $34 million, and now there won't be enough funds left over for the rest of the project. Jackson wants $28 million more from ODOT to finish the job. Given the financial difficulties it faces, ODOT has predictably told the city to go pound sand, leading to a lot of bitching from Cleveland City Hall.
My challenege to Mayor Jackson is this: Quitcherbitchin, and figure out a way between the city and the county to fund this project yourselves. If this region waits for ODOT to solve all of its problems, it'll be waiting a long time. When the City of Columbus wanted improvements made to the interchange between I-71 and Polaris Parkway, it didn't wait for ODOT to fund it, it cut ODOT a check for the cost and told them to go build it. Maybe the City of Cleveland could commit to spending 1/4 of its income tax revenue on capital improvements the way Mike Coleman has? What about Cuyahoga County, with its highest in the state sales tax? Could 1/4 of those revenues be committed to capital improvements?
It's time to get creative, Mr. Mayor. Columbus has plenty of its own troubles. If you wait for them, you'll watch Cleveland's infrastructure deteorirate further. Quitcherbitchin and get to work.