SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Coming down the home stretch on the public engagement phase of the Lee Road Action Plan, projected construction costs continue to spiral.
The proposed construction date has also been pushed back a year — to 2026 — for the transportation overhaul featuring a city-length “road diet,” including an off-road, two-way bicycle track and additional amenities along the Chagrin-Lee corridor from Van Aken Boulevard south into Cleveland.
“The cost is looking pretty beefy right now,” City Planning Director Joyce Braverman surmised during an Oct. 4 update to City Council. The total project is now estimated at over $25 million, with a nearly $8 million local match.
Starting out the year with grant applications for a nearly $13 million project and a $5.2 million city match, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) has since raised those likely construction cost estimates by 30 percent — not once but twice.
The city currently has a $10 million federal Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) grant application ready to go to NOACA, and officials could know by the end of the year if it has made the list for consideration.
And there are many other irons in the fire in terms of potential funding sources to help reduce the city’s grant matches and local shares.
Shaker has already secured $3.4 million in grant funding: $1.8 million through a state safety grant, $1 million in Cuyahoga County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation and $600,000 from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program.
The CMAQ grant will go toward traffic signalization improvements, with those efforts to be coordinated at Shaker’s borders with the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.
The City of Cleveland continues to get its ducks in a row as another “stakeholder” for similar road improvements along Lee, as their city planners work closely with Shaker’s.
“They don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but they do need to do their own traffic study,” Braverman said. “Cleveland would like to continue whatever we decide on, but they have to determine if their traffic volumes will allow for a road diet and whether they can continue a two-way, off-road bike track.”
Braverman and Principal Planner Kara Hamley O’Donnell noted that Shaker’s plan actually goes about three blocks south into the City of Cleveland up to Walden Avenue, which would not be covered at this point, although Cuyahoga County could help out on a “regional corridor update.”
Back in Shaker, O’Donnell said that over the course of the year, more than 400 people have participated in roughly 30 public meetings and events, either in person or virtually. About 450 surveys have been completed.
In terms of the proposed road diet, residents want a simple, three-lane configuration, similar to much of what’s in place on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, with one lane in each direction (north-south) and a center turn lane.
From there, Shaker residents would also like high-visibility crosswalks, planted and concrete medians creating “pedestrian refuge islands” and curb extensions that shorten the distance that people need to cross.
“Overwhelmingly, people are interested in expanding Chelton Park,” O’Donnell said of the survey results, although transportation funding could only go toward creating a new entrance to the park behind (west of) the Shaker School District’s bus depot. That remains an economic negotiating point for the city, with a feasibility study planned for next year.
Less overwhelmingly, but still a majority, about 54 percent of the respondents favor closing off Kenyon Road at Chagrin Boulevard and Lee to simplify the intersection.
And more than half favor the off-road bike track, as well as off-street parking as opposed to on-street, which could interfere with bicycle infrastructure.
Council also heard from Chris Magill, economic development director for Ice Miller Legal Counsel, part of the city’s consulting team with the construction engineering firm of WSP USA.
Magill noted that since 2013, local income taxes have grown by 41 percent, “a significant number, including commercial,” marked by a 5 percent shift.
Shaker’s long-term fostering of an entrepreneurial culture has paid off even more over the past five years, with self-employment income growing by 150 percent, which Magill noted is “very rare around the state.”
The Van Aken District has already gone a long way in addressing the previous lack of quality “Class A” office space “in one swoop,” Magill added, with the city also implementing a number of incentive programs such as the Vision Fund, opportunities through the Small Business Administration, and storefront facade rehabilitation assistance.
There remains an unmet consumer demand for more retail, restaurants and bars, while remaining business demands include computer design services, advertising and public relations, as well as building and staffing services.
As another goal, Magill said the Lee Road Action Plan must be “grounded in economic reality so that the market can absorb it.”
O’Donnell added that polling showed that “people like the idea of a walkable, ‘Main Street’ feel with a neighborhood center and one-to-four-story commercial redevelopment with a central core mixed-use area.”
Shaker officials cannot gauge at this point how the overall concept and grant application will be received by NOACA. Potential construction costs are escalating for cities, whose demand remains high.
Mayor David Weiss noted that Beachwood continues to seek funding for better access at interchanges on and off Interstate 271 to cut down on traffic congestion, snarls and backups.
Planners pointed out that NOACA’s criteria does include equitable transportation, with a rubric that takes into account demographics such as minority population, designated need and social justice issues.
In the meantime, the city plans a stakeholder meeting via the Zoom platform from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 and a business focus group Zoom meeting from 10 to 11 a.m. Nov. 10.
These will be followed up with a public open house hosted at The Dealership in the Chagrin-Lee corridor from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, featuring proposed designs and drawings on display.
From there, formal plan adoption could come early next year, as more grant applications go out and coordination continues with the city’s partners on the project — namely Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and NOACA.
Read more from the Sun Press.