Regarding the news that the most offending parts of the Eastern Corridor Project have been eliminated, State Representative Tom Brinkman said
“I am so happy for the communities that had been threatened by this project that they finally got a reprieve. I am honored that they trusted me to serve knowing that I would force this issue. Special thanks to Speaker Cliff Roseburger and Senator Seitz who both worked hard helping bring this to a conclusion.”
UNION TOWNSHIP The state has killed a controversial plan to relocate a major commuter route through parts of eastern Hamilton County – ending an arduous, years-long battle between residents and public officials.
The plan to re-route a part of Ohio 32 around Newtown and through historic land in Mariemont has been scrapped, state officials told The Enquirer on Thursday. Work will continue on other parts of the $1 billion Eastern Corridor project across eastern Hamilton and western Clermont counties, but eliminating a big chunk of the Ohio 32 relocation plan could untangle a bureaucratic mess.
“I’m elated,” Mariemont Mayor Dan Policastro said. “We’ve been saying for years (for the state) not to do this, and they finally did it. It’s going to work out for everybody.”
The Eastern Corridor is designed to improve access and alleviate congestion with roadway improvements, a new highway interchange, bike lanes and passenger rail. It has been on the drawing boards since the 1970s, and many phases have failed to move forward because of a lack of consensus and money.
Thursday’s news was a long-time coming for residents of Mariemont and Newtown, but the roadway relocation plan isn’t officially dead just yet. The state, which has spent at least $14 million planning the Ohio 32 relocation, still is beholden to a federal process that requires more time and paperwork. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say the process could be complete by the end of this month.
“This is great news, but it’s almost like you have to get the coroner involved to make sure it’s really dead,” Newtown Mayor Curt Cosby said.
State officials broke the news to community leaders, politicians and transportation planners during a closed-door meeting Thursday morning in Eastgate. It was the first major meeting about the Ohio 32 relocation since a state-hired mediator released a damning report in November.
The report revealed the utter frustration of Mariemont and Newtown residents – showing the project was plagued by government mistrust, accusations of hidden agendas and disagreements about the merits of the Ohio 32 relocation plan.
Many had long questioned the merits of spending up to $277 million on relocating Ohio 32, considering the Western Hills Viaduct and Brent Spence Bridge need to be replaced. The mediator’s findings gave extra ammunition for opponents of the roadway relocation.
Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel have opposed the project, and state Rep. Tom Brinkman tried to kill that part of the Eastern Corridor in the Legislature earlier this year. Brinkman’s efforts helped establish a do-or-die deadline of Dec. 31 on the plan to relocate Ohio 32 through Mariemont and Newtown.
“I’m pleased for the people who were going to be in harm’s way, and I’m happy that I was able to force a conclusion,” said Brinkman, a Mount Lookout Republican.
Mariemont loathed the plan because the roadway would have cut through the South 80 park, which residents use to plant gardens and for recreational activities. Newtown feared a new bypass would cripple the village’s small business district and deplete its tax base.
The mediation process helped guide ODOT’s call.
“They really cared about what we had to say,” Policastro said.
The state will consider minor congestion-relief improvements to Ohio 32 through Newtown and U.S. 50 in Mariemont. Those could include different road striping patterns and new traffic lights with prioritization technology.
The state also will continue to look at expanding Ohio 32 east of Newtown in Anderson Township near the border of Hamilton and Clermont counties.
The controversy over the Ohio 32 relocation created a negative perception of the entire Easter Corridor, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said. He now hopes the criticism will stop.
“The Eastern Corridor program is more than the relocation of State Route 32, but in the minds of the public, that’s what it became,” Portune said. “This provides some real clarity as to where this is going.”
Others aren’t so sure. Many also have questioned the merits of a plan for a passenger rail from Downtown to Clermont County. Ridership projections have been low, and the rail line has a $230 million to $323 million price tag. The state has spent $4.4 million on the railway.
“It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Monzel said.