Caps could provide neighborhood connections
Thursday, December 14, 2006
By SUE HAGAN
ThisWeek Staff Writer

Replacing nondescript city street bridges over I-70 and I-71 downtown with pedestrian-friendly crossings is a good idea, say a couple of neighborhood representatives who have contributed ideas.

The Ohio Department of Transportation revealed its vision last week for how to reconnect neighborhoods that were separated when the downtown freeways were built a half-century ago.

Drawings of the nine crossings -- Long, Broad, Oak, Town, Main, High, Third and Fourth streets, along with Grant Avenue -- show walkways, trees, green space and sculpture and other artistic accents.

Some crossings would be widened just enough to allow for pedestians and some green space, while three -- including High Street -- would be wide enough that buildings could be added later, similar to what was done on the High Street cap in the Short North.

Three other major downtown thoroughfares -- Spring and Front streets and Parsons Avenue -- would not receive caps, but the connector roads leading to them would receive a "grand gateway" treatment, complete with artistic features reflecting the neighborhoods they lead to.

The ideas are based on input from the public and could be built as part of the $850-million freeway reconstruction scheduled to begin in 2010.

Bill Curlis, who has represented the German Village Society in the working groups providing community input on the I-70/71 project, said the caps on High, Third and Fourth streets would be welcome additions.

"This is the most creative thing we have seen come out of ODOT in all of their plans," he said. "They junked all the business about the engineering and took it down to the view of the pedestrian ... (and) attempted to hide the freeway. That's something we had been talking about for four years."

Terri Marshall, who has been representing the Brewery District during the process, said she likes the overall concepts, but would have liked to see a Front Street cap. ODOT spokeswoman Michelle May said that could happen in a future phase.

"The proposal is to build reinforced retaining walls (along the freeway) that would allow for future caps," she said.
Under the current proposal, the connector road leading to Front Street would be lined with steel columns, and that, too, gave Marshall pause.

"They look good, but I suggested something maybe a little more representative of the Brewery District," she said.

The district was home to a number of breweries and abounds in brick architecture.

May said that the proposals are "very preliminary. ... We're still taking public input," she said.

Additionally, so far only ODOT has committed any funding -- $10-million -- for the caps and "grand gateways," which are estimated to cost $85-million to $110-million in 2012 dollars.

But ODOT officials say they have been working closely with city and county leaders to identify resources, and that the business community might provide funds as well.

ODOT will be taking public comments on these ideas through January, and the agency and city officials plan to begin next spring or summer prioritizing design ideas.

ODOT also is finalizing a recommendation for rebuilding the I-70/71 split, and plans to present its analysis in February.
Alternatives have been narrowed down. One the east side of the split, along I-71, one-way city streets would be built parallel to the freeway using portions of Parsons Avenue and Lester Drive.

On the south side, ODOT is still deciding between two options. One-way city streets parallel to the freeway would be reconstructed along either Mound and Fulton streets or Livingston Avenue and Fulton Street to serve east and west traffic into and out of downtown.

All the alternatives untangle the I-70/71 overlap, eliminate a few ramps, and add lanes to accommodate more traffic, according to ODOT.

ODOT has committed $535-million to the overall project, which includes $37-million for streetscape improvements and $10-million to the crossings and gateways.