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Cleveland Envisions Reconfigured Highway to Open up Lakefront

Thu October 16, 2003 - National Edition

CLEVELAND (AP) In what one transportation official acknowledges as an unusual move, city officials want to slow the pace of Cleveland’s shoreline highway, sacrificing speed for lakefront access.

Construction could begin as early as 2007 on converting the highway along the Lake Erie coast across most of Cleveland into a tree-lined boulevard with a landscaped median, sidewalk, bike pathway and traffic signals.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) would do the first-stage work on the portion of the highway west of downtown at a cost of approximately $50 million. The project would be eligible for state and federal funds.

Planning Director Chris Ronayne said that decades ago, "a 50-year decision was made for 1950 to 2000 that essentially cut us off from the water."

A new boulevard or parkway would have 35-mph speed limits instead of the current 50 mph or higher. Traffic studies are needed to determine if the road could handle the traffic, though city and transportation officials are confident it would be manageable.

One reason is that the west end of the shoreway is only about half as busy as it was in the 1950s, before other highways were built in the area.

Even if forced to stop at every light, ODOT estimates it would take an extra five minutes to reach downtown from the west side with five new traffic signals.

While changing a highway to a slower-moving parkway is unusual, it’s not unheard of, said Craig Hebebrand, ODOT project manager.

"It isn’t something that’s done very often, but it’s something that’s being looked at more and more,’ Hebebrand said.

In Milwaukee, the Park East freeway is being transformed into a boulevard to free up land for redevelopment. Toronto city officials are looking at changing the Gardiner Expressway to a slower roadway to improve waterfront access. In Ohio, Akron is considering redesigning state Route 59 to help revamp the downtown area, Hebebrand said.

Besides converting the shoreway to a slower-moving road, options include leaving it a divided highway or constructing a parkway with highway-style ramps and intersections with traffic signals.

Leaving the shoreway as is remains on the table partially because a "no build" alternative is required by the federal government for such major studies, Ronayne said.

The three options will be detailed during public meetings this week. An advisory committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the city, ODOT and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, a regional planning commission, Hebebrand said. All three agencies must come to an agreement on a decision, which is expected this winter, he said.

"Everyone knows what an asset we have on the Great Lakes, and we need to take full advantage of it," Hebebrand said.