Just how highway-focused is the Ohio Department of Transportation under John Kasich? Well, it’s not good. In fact, it’s sort of laughably, hilariously terrible (if you don’t live here, that is).
Yes, ODOT is showing its true colors in its dismissive attitude with the West Shoreway highway-to-boulevard project that Cleveland has been planning for decades. It’s clear from this case that John Kasich’s ODOT thinks livability projects like highway-to-boulevard conversions are pretty silly.
First of all, this project has been advanced by three governors of varying political stripes. Already $400 million in desperately needed investment is underway along the corridor. That money is what we in Ohio call economic development — the sort of thing John Kasich has built his whole governorship around attracting.
Okay, here comes the funny part. ODOT let the project go way, way over budget and now there’s not enough to complete the plan. So the city of Cleveland returned to the state DOT for its second round of funding.
But ODOT is making it clear they aren’t too enthusiastic about this kind of thing anymore.
ODOT Spokesman Steve Faulkner told the Plain Dealer last week: “Given the budget crunch states are facing, it’s really hard to justify throwing more money into a project that is designed to reduce speed, won’t alleviate congestion and in some ways downgrades a perfectly good roadway.”
See why it’s funny? The whole point of the project was to make Cleveland’s lakefront accessible to people who aren’t in cars. The highway is a giant barrier to Cleveland’s notoriously underdeveloped Lake Erie coastline.
But pedestrians and cyclists don’t rate too highly at the state’s main transportation agency, as you can see from ODOT’s spokesperson. In fact, they don’t even warrant mention.
ODOT has a committee called TRAC that was designed to “remove politics” from the transportation funding process. But under Kasich, TRAC has pretty much decided “nonpolitically” that transit projects aren’t important and highway projects are. (This is the group that tried really, really hard to kill the Cincinnati Streetcar.)
In keeping with this pattern, TRAC gave the West Shoreway project a total score of 25 points on a 100-point scale, based on criteria including traffic congestion, safety, environmental and economic impacts and local financial support.
And get this: A project that has already generated almost half a billion dollars in investment got awarded zero points for economic development. Zero!
Faulkner told the Plain Dealer that the economic development category measures only projects’ ability to move customers and goods more efficiently. Which makes perfect sense as a measure of economic development, if highways exist in a vacuum and vehicle throughput is the only meaningful way to determine the wellbeing of a community.
Said Faulkner: “Retail, beautification and livability enhancements — such as reducing a road from a highway to a boulevard and adding trees and bike paths — do not improve a project’s economic [return on investment] score.”
So investments that seek to take advantage of the quality of life assets of a piece of transportation infrastructure don’t count because only truckers moving freight count in Ohio.
There you have it folks. Ohio: it’s doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad place to live, as long as it’s still a great place to drive through in a truck.