11.22.05 Excellence Roundtable NOTES: Paul Alsenas on Innerbelt and Signature Bridge

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 11/25/2005 - 02:58.


The November 22, 2005, NEO Excellence Roundtable focused on the future of the regional landscape and economy as impacted by the I-90 Innerbelt and bridge over the Cuyahoga River. Several dozen NEO leaders joined together at the City Club to discuss with Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Director Paul Alsenas a vision to redesign the Innerbelt and replace the current I-90 bridge with a world-class, high-design bridge to the south of the current structure, creating a new landmark for the region and an ideal gateway into our city for the future.



This is not a theoretical exercise, but an opportunity created by necessity. Due to high rates of accidents and traffic on the Innerbelt through Cleveland (which includes “Dead Man's Curve”), the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is well along in planning to spend nearly $1 billion to redesign this bridge and stretch of freeway and interconnections.

ODOT is developing a plan to keep the current I-90 bridge in place and build an additional bridge to the north of that. They also plan to eliminate many freeway access points in Cleveland. Through a series of forums, and coverage in the media, it is clear there is intelligent opposition to the ODOT plan.



The 11.22.05 Roundtable was an open discussion on these matters, Paul Alsenas and the local representative of ODOT were invited to attend – Paul was available but ODOT was not. Paul presented his vision for the southern route of the Innerbelt and bridge and all other attendees were enthusiastic for that – next steps were planned, including follow-up meetings, development of planning materials, retaining an independent engineer, and oversight of ODOT planning processes.



In summary of attendee viewpoints and Paul's presentation:

We all appreciate the opportunity to have a world-class gateway to our city.

One attendee envisioned postcards of Cleveland featuring a signature bridge, joining our other great bridges and skyline – he suggested we create postcards presenting signature bridge concepts as a way to communicate this opportunity to the public.

Several attendees, including experts from the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, proposed we should hold an international design competition to choose the architect for the new bridge.

Paul Alsenans is excited by the opportunity to eliminate the current wall of elevated steel girder freeway along Carnegie Avenue by moving the bridge and access roads to the south, thus opening up the south side of the Gateway district to new development (the champions of the Western Reserve Fire Station Museum propose developing a historic district by their landmark project on the First Street Viaduct site)

Paul also sees an opportunity to make our bridge entirely revolutionary by integrating off-the-grid energy technology like solar and wind power - “sustainable” technology design – go beyond today's world-class
As one roundtable attendee described the situation, Cleveland is like a drunk in a tattoo parlor about to get a really ugly tattoo – we'll wake up in the morning with great regrets

Another attendee equated the situation with ODOT to the barbarians in Capital One advertisements storming through a city tearing it to pieces

One simple statement that was made: “Cleveland cannot settle for bad design!”

Another: “Bridges are part of our landscape” - we are a city of bridges

From Paul Alsenas, during his presentation on the subject:

“We can do better than the best out there today.”

The current I-90 bridge transports 148,000 vehicles a day, of which 85% are traveling to and from downtown Cleveland – only 15% of vehicles are just passing through. So, the bridge/Innerbelt is for the community more than for the long haul traffic.

(It later came up that there are around 750 accidents on the Innerbelt bridge and trench through Cleveland, making it one of the highest accident rate roadways in Ohio – that is the problem ODOT is setting out to correct).

Bridges over the Cuyahoga must have a clearance height of about 100 feet. All our high level bridges are deck on top, with support and structure beneath – that requires the bridges to be much higher than if the support is above. A vertical support suspension bridge could still have this clearance while being 30 feet lower – lower height and less superstructure may be lower cost.

Also, the Southern bridge would be about 1,000 feet shorter than the planned Northern bridge addition – the southern plan should cost much less.

The Northern plan requires many property takes (29 for the entire Innerbelt redevelopment), including the cold storage building on the West Side (which is currently slated for conversion into over 300 residential units) and an historic 1880s warehouse, and would destroy both ends of the historic First Street Viaduct. The southern plan requires minimal property takes, none of which are historic.

Cleveland has more types of operating lift bridges than any city in the world – we need to keep building on that. The right bridge will be a tourist attraction, which will build on our current world-class position as the city of bridges.

It is time we in the mid-west make a statement about what great bridge design is for the world.

An example of success – for $80 million in today's dollars we could have a comparable to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Bridge (cable stay).

Toledo was being forced a mundane bridge but was able to rally for a high design bridge – Columbus has one as well

Boston offers a good comparable – their planners spent years trying to design around traffic problems and then did it right... built Zakim/Bunker Hill Bridge, which is now one of the top 10 tourist attraction bridges in the world – the weekend before it opened they let the public walk across it and 250,000 took that opportunity – we could have the same outcomes

Must view the entire Cuyahoga Valley as our context – this is bigger than just a bridge in a city but a landmark and regional asset, in the heart of the region, spanning the towpath

The Roundtable discussion turned to what we can do to drive the right outcomes with this situation.

#1 Contact Taft, ODOT, Federal Officials, legislators, City Planning Commission, media – speak up

#2 Form community partnership for the right outcomes – align together and take this responsibility seriously – consider what 1,000s of people can do

#3 Community Planning Process – we need to bring in independent experts – cannot depend on ODOT experts to work for us... they work for ODOT – we may need to raise the funds for the right team... need good design to help world see what we can do with good design, and what we can eliminate by replacing the old span

#4 Must enforce the proper public processes – hold ODOT responsible to do right things – file to protect historic properties – participate in the dialog

Key dates ahead:

ODOT has reduced to three the number of engineering firms they are considering – will select a firm by mid-December – plan to complete engineering and environmental impact study in next 9 months – plan to start work in late 2006. Process is fast-track.

Need high quality independent engineering and economic and environmental impact study and need to do that fast.

To help public see opportunity of a great design, we need graphical presentation – 3D renderings – drive/fly through various designs – show economic and environmental impact of Northern route, from demolition of historic structures to impact of new embankments and redirected traffic flows, vs. economic and environmental benefits of Southern pass, including opening up and development of land and glory of high-art bridge and gateway approach to city

Current ODOT design is presented, with them having added a section of cable stay to be able to say they have provided a “signature” design – “throwing Cleveland a bone” - very poor concept and execution

When asked if ODOT can be stopped, the group belief was if the city/region really comes behind this opportunity - “takes ownership” - and Senator Voinovich gets on board, we definitely can turn this around

Question comes up of what is a signature bridge?

We have many great bridges, like the Lorain/Carnegie Bridge. So our next bridge – which will be here for the next 100 years – should be the latest technology – new icon for future of city/region

Must focus on process. ODOT is railroading process – at one time ODOT was considering the Southern plan and then suddenly this Summer said it was unacceptable – only reason they have given is it would impact the Greek Church in Tremont, which it will not.

Question comes to where ODOT stands on all this now. Feeling is they must be realizing they have problems with their plans. The Roundtable attendees planning the Southern Route believe the ODOT people in Cleveland are good people and want these right outcomes, but there are obstacles in Columbus that are political.

How do we plan and implement world-class path?

What is willingness of ODOT to adapt plans and schedules?

We need to press on regardless, starting with bringing in a world-class engineer that can stand toe-to-toe vs. ODOT's hires. Must also conduct economic, environmental and traffic analyses. Must be engineer that does not work in Ohio or with ODOT, as going against ODOT is a “third-rail”.

Need to develop visuals communicating current planning flaws – show line-ups of traffic taking proposed ODOT routes to Indians Games, sitting on ramps and side streets trying to reach downtown and then trying to get out en mass, embankments overshadowing Cuyahoga Community College, ordeal of reaching Mid-Town developments and the Cleveland Clinic.

Plain Dealer, Crain's, Sun Press and Free Times are supportive (but need better visuals). Involve public TV and media – what about doing segment with Ideastream – Ideas – network TV doesn't understand the issues.

Need to develop a Matrix of who is for and against the opportunity.

Cornerstones for building platform for correct outcomes:

Engineering study
Economic Development analysis
Process review and oversight

Immediate next steps. A group of designers are meeting Monday at 9 AM at the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission to review their design resources and visuals and determine what else is needed to develop advanced imaging. Several people involved in this project are also contacting world-experts in bridge engineering, design and policy to seek their assistance. Ed Hauser is reviewing processes leading up to current ODOT fast track and filing for proper processes and documentation.

Updates will keep posting to http://neobridge.net