Saturday, August 26, 2000

Citizens group wins

Opposition helps change highway plans

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNION TOWNSHIP — Planners have effectively dropped Eastgate Parkway and other controversial aspects of the proposed $800 million Eastern Corridor Project, thanks in part to the efforts of a small, grass-roots opposition group.

        A rerouted Ohio 32 is now being touted as the best solution by local officials, meaning that Union Township resident Patty Strassel won't have a four-lane highway running through her back yard.

        “Eastgate Parkway would (have) just cut Union Township in two, and killed all the residential neighborhoods that all of us moved here for in the first place,” says Mrs. Strassel, treasurer of Citizens Against the Parkway, or CAP, which had a core group of about 12 before mobilizing dozens more for petition drives.

        “I'm not against progress, but I invite anyone out to see what we have to lose if they build this thing,” she said.

        CAP members say they have 5,000 people lined up to oppose the parkway, as well as an Eastgate Boulevard extension through Clough Pike to Ohio Pike/Beechmont Avenue (Ohio 125), and a new interchange at Interstate 275 and Clough.

        “Democracy still works if people get involved,” says CAP vice president Bill Showers, a retired architect who also worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and has served as a Newtown village councilman. “And we had to do something about this or we would've had a highway running through our back yards.”

        The Eastern Corridor Project covers western Clermont County and eastern Hamilton County, which have a population of 161,000 and no direct access to downtown. The controversial projects remain listed on literature promoting the corridor project.

        “Eastgate Parkway may still be on the list, but it is really dead,” says Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, chair of the multiagency Eastern Corridor Task Force. “And they (CAP) deserve some credit for that. This has been a very good example of a grass-roots campaign.”

        Eastgate Parkway would have been configured as a throughway and run about 5.5 miles from Batavia southwest through Union Township to a new I-275/Clough interchange.

        In their proposal to the Ohio Department of Transportation's Transportation Review Advisory Council earlier this month, officials instead recommended that a new Ohio 32 be built along the Little Miami River north of Newtown. The elevated throughway would connect with Columbia Parkway (U.S. 50) across a new bridge spanning the river at Red Bank Road.

        Recommendations also include overhauling the Ohio 32/I-275 interchange and connecting it to the rerouted Ohio 32.

        While the fight over the highway has been bitter at times, CAP and local officials agree on one thing — something needs to be done on Greater Cincinnati's east side.

        The area covered by the proposal has the Tristate's shortest commute to downtown Cincinnati and central Hamilton County in terms of distance, but the second-longest in terms of time, according to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

        The only interstate access is I-275 and I-471, and there is no direct route downtown. And the area's population is expected to grow to almost 200,000 by 2020 thanks to Clermont County's continued building boom.

        “People call us "Citizens Against Progress' but nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr. Showers said. “But the land planning is the poorest I've ever seen. But the local governments are bending to the will of industry over residential landowners. You just don't devaluate people's property that way without their input.”

        Officials are trying to get the corridor project added to ODOT's 2005 construction budget. The overall proposal calls for the addition of light rail and expanding bus service. Preliminary estimates are $300 million for highway construction alone.

        Transportation Review Advisory Council members gave it positive marks earlier this month, but if it is approved, the new roads won't be done before 2010.

        “There's no question that it'll get accomplished,” says Clermont County Administrator Steve Wharton, who has been at odds with CAP several times over the last two years. “But we're looking at a 20-year program here at least.”

        The controversy has been a factor in recent elections — Clermont County Commissioner Dick Martin, a parkway proponent, was defeated in the Republican primary this year.

        But despite their apparent win, CAP members say they'll remain vigilant, pointing to the fact that Clermont County has already been allocated $27.5 million in federal highway funds to start building the parkway.

        Mr. Wharton wants to reallocate those funds to the Ohio 32/I-275 interchange project, a proposal that has initial ODOT approval but has caused a lot of doubt from CAP members.

        And the inclusion of Eastgate Parkway, the Eastgate Boulevard extension and Clough Pike interchange on official literature makes CAP even more nervous.


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