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$12 million federal deadline looms for RTA, Cleveland

RTA and the city now asking for extension
Posted at 6:43 PM, Jan 10, 2017

The City of Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority have both asked for a 30-day extension to a January 19 payment deadline. It was set by the federal government and involves bus access in Public Square.

In December, the Federal Transit Administration told city and RTA officials they would need to pay back $12 million of funding granted in 2004 for the Euclid Avenue HealthLine bus-rapid-transit project. The agreement called for keeping buses running on Superior Avenue through Public Square.

Mayor Frank Jackson has said keeping the road closed will make the square more pedestrian-friendly, but transit advocates argue the square was designed for bus traffic and not using the dedicated lanes causes delays.

Cleveland Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown said Tuesday the city needs more time to complete a traffic study to determine the closure’s impact on pedestrian safety and traffic flow.

“I think the community would be best served by letting this process play out to its conclusion,” Brown said.

RTA CEO and General Manager Joe Calabrese told News 5 on Tuesday he’s working with the city to find a solution that includes his agency not having to pay back that money.

“Exclusive lanes, signal pre-emption, off-board fare collection, level boarding,” Calabrese said.

Calabrese would not comment Tuesday on which entity, either RTA or the city, would be responsible for repaying the money if ordered, only saying he was committed to making sure his agency remains off the hook.

"We’re doing whatever we can do to prohibit that from happening," he said of the payment.

Previously, Calabrese raised concerns about the closure in a November letter to Mayor Frank Jackson, saying the continued closure in part, “may actually have the unintended consequence of increasing the risk of a pedestrian accident.”

Supporters of bus service through the square, like Akshai Singh with the group Clevelanders for Public Transit, said that prediction came true in December when a bus making a left-hand turn hit a woman in a crosswalk.

“Which is the most dangerous turn because it’s got the biggest blind spot for a driver,” he said. "It’s awful, and that’s real.”

Singh is asking city councilors to take advantage of a 2004 ordinance that gave Council the authority to close the road. He now wants them to use that ordinance to reopen it, but Council President Kevin Kelley told News 5 on Tuesday he wasn’t sure if the law worked that way.

"I don’t know if the converse is true that we would then have the authority to reopen a closed route,” Kelley said.