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Ohio City residents, officials fight back after city drops Willow Ave. Bridge replacement proposal

Posted at 6:40 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 19:16:28-04

CLEVELAND — People in an Ohio City community want transparency from city leaders after they said a proposal to divert truck traffic from their neighborhood was canned without any warning.

The problems with the Willow Avenue lift bridge date back decades and have serious implications for the people who live in nearby Lakeview Terrace — one of the oldest public housing projects in the nation. Local officials said this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix those problems and they’re calling on the city to do it the right way.

Since she moved in 21 years ago, Diane Howard has dealt with trucks driving by her home in Lakeview Terrace and she’s worried about the effect it has on the families who live there.

“The trucks don't need to come through Lakeview because of safety for our children,” Howard said.

And now, she’s frustrated after the city got rid of a plan to replace the aging Willow Avenue Bridge with another that connects to the Shoreway near West 45th Street.

It was one of five plans discussed at a public meeting held by Councilman Merry McCormack and Councilman Matt Zone last year.

The options were:

  • Replace the bridge where it stands
  • Build a new bridge right next to the existing bridge
  • Build a new bridge slightly downriver from the existing bridge
  • Build a new bridge farther downriver, crossing the river on the other side of Lakeview Terrace
  • Build a new bridge that connects directly to the Shoreway near West 45th Street

RELATED: Cleveland residents can weigh in on proposals to replace Willow Avenue Bridge that crosses Cuyahoga River

“It was loud and clear from our residents that they wanted to make sure that whatever decision was made - that the health and well being of our residents at Lakeview estates were taken into consideration, and that the decades-long problem of truck traffic through Lakeview was solved,” McCormack said.

He said the last option, to build a new bridge that connects to the Shoreway, came out as the preferred option.

But in an updated traffic analysis dated in June of this year, the city decided to remove that option from consideration, saying it would be too costly and increase traffic congestion on the Shoreway.

McCormack said he had no idea about the decision until about three weeks ago. He said it comes down to poor communication.

“We were not communicated with, the council people, the community development corporations who are critically important in the neighborhood were not communicated with,” McCormack said.

He then teamed up with Zone, Ohio City Incorporated, and the Detroit Shoreway Development Organization.

“Immediately threw up a red flag to say - wait a second - you know you can't make this decision in a silo without talking to folks in the community,” McCormack said. “And we wanted to ensure that the voices of the neighborhood, and specifically the folks that are most acutely impacted by this decision - our residents at Lakeview Estates - were taken into full consideration and that we drew the line to say no plan is going to be supported that does not remove truck traffic out of Lakeview.”

Since then, McCormack and Zone have met with city leaders to lay out their concerns.

“The big point that we sent to them was, we have a once-in-a-generation, multi-generation opportunity here to fix this environmental injustice. And we've got to make sure that we do this right,” McCormack said. “The other message that we sent to them too was, look we thankfully passed a resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis. And that's a great start, but when we look at these decisions that are being made, we’ve got to look through the lens of that declaration. And this is a prime example of a way that we can take an action to start to fight back against those negative consequences, like systemic racism.”

Ohio City Incorporated has also taken action by circulating a letter online asking residents to email those leaders as well and demanding the city include the public in the bridge plans. The letter also urges leaders to start solving some of the issues plaguing one of the nation’s first housing projects.

Executive Director Tom McNair said Lakeview Terrace was separated from the rest of the Ohio City community by the West Shoreway just a few years after it was built in 1937 - and the community has been trying to recover from that ever since.

“For a place that has trucks passing by every 17 seconds, over 1,000 trucks a day. I cannot imagine that happening in any other place in Northeast Ohio without a major outcry and yet it has been allowed to happen here for decades,” said Tom McNair, executive director of Ohio City Incorporated.

Howard said she’s tired of being left out and wants the city to invite her and her neighbors to the conversation.

“Just because we live in low-income housing, the residents and the children should not have to suffer,” Howard said. “I think the city should let the residents know what they're going to do.”

McCormack said he and Zone met with city leaders this week. They said they will not support any plan that does not remove truck traffic from the area around Lakeview Terrace and they left the conversation wanting to see the Shoreway bridge option pursued further.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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