After meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and a handful of other stakeholders at an invite-only “focus group” on June 4, the Sierra Club is cautiously optimistic that transportation planners will abandon the proposed new Eastern Corridor highway in favor of making improvements to existing roadways and the region’s public transit system. Sierra Club supports plans to expand bicycle infrastructure in the region.
For more than 15 years, the Little Miami River Valley has faced the looming threat of a proposed new highway that would cut through or pave over much of what makes that area special. Sierra Club and others were concerned that the Eastern Corridor project would pollute the river, degrade air quality, destroy important cultural and historic resources, disrupt recreational activities, displace communities and induce unwanted suburban sprawl.
The Eastern Corridor highway was originally intended to facilitate development in eastern Hamilton County and in Clermont County, and to accommodate the increasing numbers of commuters that would come with that development. But at the June 4 stakeholder meeting, officials from ODOT and Clermont County acknowledged that new growth and traffic projections show more people are choosing to live closer to downtown, and the need for a new highway may no longer exist.
Representatives from ODOT noted that the project’s anticipated environmental, cultural and socio-economic impacts in the Little Miami River Valley were “too challenging” to overcome. This confirms Sierra Club’s long-held position.
The Eastern Corridor project is separated into four segments, starting at Red Bank in Madisonville and continuing east to Bells Lane in Clermont County. ODOT had intended to build a new east-west highway through Segment II from Fairfax to Newtown Road. Moving forward, Segment II will now include purported improvements to SR 32, US 50 and SR 125. ODOT continues to anticipate that Segment III will require relocating SR 32 northward, from Newtown Road to Bells Lane.
Officials from the City of Cincinnati and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) have stated that the Eastern Corridor project should focus on improving public transportation instead of providing more accommodations for automobile traffic.
Last year, ODOT released a Statewide Transit Needs Study, which concludes that Ohio should be spending far more proportionally on public transportation than new highways. This decision about the Eastern Corridor may mark ODOT’s first step toward addressing the Transit Needs Study.
ODOT will continue to consider plans for passenger rail along existing roadways and railways within the Eastern Corridor.
Sierra Club remains concerned about the possibility that ODOT’s plans might still call for the construction of a new or relocated bridge (or bridges) over the nationally recognized Wild & Scenic Little Miami River. ODOT is still required to complete its project review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Sierra Club will continue to participate in the planning process.
Sierra Club is similarly concerned that ODOT’s plan to relocate SR 32 in the Segment III area from Newtown Road to Bells Lane may yet create unacceptable environmental and socio-economic impacts in Newtown and surrounding communities.
ODOT has not addressed Sierra Club’s concerns about Segment I of the Eastern Corridor project in Madisonville. That proposal still calls for the construction of a new connector road across the John P. Parker Elementary School grounds, which would put students at risk from air quality and safety hazards. ODOT has acknowledged that the proposed design will need to be updated according to the latest traffic projections, now that proposed Segments II and III have been revised.
Sierra Club has urged ODOT to open all future meetings about the Eastern Corridor to the public. Outside of the transportation planning process, Sierra Club and its partners will investigate options to protect the Little Miami River Valley from future proposed incursions and preserve it for generations to come.