Notes from the Midtown "Trench" Meeting

Submitted by Martha Eakin on Thu, 02/23/2006 - 18:16.

    At the meeting ODOT held on 2/21/06 at the Myers University Club to discuss the Midtown trench and its on and off ramps, I noticed one behavior that struck me as emblematic of ODOT’s relationship with the public.  I know that people speaking at meetings or calling in to talk shows  will begin with thanking the “sponsor”,  so to speak, but at Tuesday’s meeting the majority of audience members who lined up to comment or ask questions began with drawn out thank- you’s to the various members of ODOT for coming to Cleveland, for having the meeting etc. etc.  My classes in “social relations” were years ago, but it seems to me that the typical audience behavior at Myers suggested people who viewed themselves as supplicants, placating the authorities first in the hopes that whatever they wanted to ask or state might at least be allowed utterance.  Now I am not naïve, and I know ODOT is in the power position here, but ultimately the taxpayers can bring about change in the balance of this relationship by letting their elected officials know that the people who make the final decisions are not really listening to the public but rather just allowing them to “vent”.

    You know how news analysts sometimes count certain catch words – e.g. “the president referred to national security 22 times in his address …”  Well, Mr. Proctor of ODOT used the word “crashes” over and over. ODOT has even gone to some effort to show with a demographic map that the crashes were mostly in the area they are going to “fix” and involved our friends and neighbors and so on.  More than one audience member asked if these crashes might just end up being moved onto the city streets. [This may be a good place to note that someone (Mr. Cimperman?) asked who would be responsible for maintaining the new marginal roads ODOT is proposing to get people to and from the new main on/off ramp in Midtown at 22nd street, and the ODOT answer was that it would most likely be Cleveland, since ODOT maintains the freeways but not other roads.   Now how is Cleveland going to pay for this?] Returning to the issue of crashes, there was no information as to the severity of these crashes – how many were fender benders etc.  The traffic situation on 90 through Cleveland is far from ideal; there are too many situations where on ramps feed into fast moving traffic that suddenly has to slow for the next off/on ramps.  It will also be far from ideal if the “crash” problem is resolved by reducing the numbers of people wanting to get on and off in Cleveland because the businesses where they were headed, as either employees or customers, are no longer there either because they were literally “taken” by ODOT or because the new traffic patterns have put them out of business.

    The meeting was opened to comment with the proviso that questions and comments be restricted to the Midtown trench.  If I understand it correctly, ODOT hadn’t intended for the general public to attend this meeting.  Although it was listed first on CoolCleveland and later on neobridge, it never appeared on the ODOT innerbelt site.  When Ed Hauser pointed out that ODOT was not following their own Project Development Process(PDP), Mr. Proctor barely contained himself.  He did not want to hear it, and Cleveland’s planning director wanted to move things along as well. Still, numerous questions addressed the fact that the economic impact study was still not done and yet ODOT is forging ahead with its decisions. Mr. Proctor’s response was that he was surprised we even wanted/needed  such a study.  It seems that the innerbelt project is the first one ever for which ODOT has been asked to do an economic impact study. He attempted to make such studies sound so unusual that it was hard to even find an outfit to perform it.

    Obviously if we want outcomes that are more responsive to public input, some of the ground rules need to be changed.  Should safety always trump economics?  Is the safety card being used unfairly? How can we even make rational, informed decisions if there are no viable alternatives on the table for which safety and economic impacts have been considered seriously?  If we are building for the next 50+ years and ground won’t be broken till 2009, what about other kinds of traffic safety devices that are being developed or are already out there. I know we can’t count on everyone having “smart” cars that won’t run into the car in front, but there may be other solutions out there that we haven’t even considered because we are still doing business as usual with a recent overlay of PDP that has still definitely not been fully integrated.

    Finally after the meeting was adjourned,  Mr. Coyle of ODOT was asked what ever happened to the Alternatives Report and he assured us that it would be coming and that it would include a S. alignment for the bridge, although not the one as far south as had been proposed by the County Planning Office.  When I asked how it made sense to have determined the bridge designer before the location for the bridge was finalized ( since Mr. Coyle insisted that the final location was not  finalized), Mr.Coyle said that “you” need to tell us what kind of bridge you want and then we can put it anywhere.  He spoke as if the span demands of different locations and thus possible large differences in cost, environmental impact, and so on, for different designs were just immaterial.  We all know this is not so.

We all know this (re. ODOT) is not so?!?!

WOW - these are really helpful notes - thank you so much. While, as you point out, many in NEO have decided it is best to take whatever ODOT/FHA says, I'm not convinced I've heard them say "go to hell Cleveland"... at least not the FHA... the battle needs to go to Washington, DC. What I have heard is the process is broken - that this is the first highway project that has required an "Economic Impact" study so FHA doesn't know what to expect. What I know is that a few good people like yourself and Ed Hauser are once again saying slow down, stop the insanity, and let's get this right for the next 100 years, instead of suffering by the wrong decisions again. You have moved forward fighting a good fight, only because it is right, and the world is watching. That the world is watching is the problem. That ODOT is a third rail is frightening - big shots won't challenge an organization that gives multi-million-dollar contracts, and influences so many people with fear. The PD has said the politicians have made the decisions for the people, and the people don't matter. Not the first time. So, what is the next step?