By Jon Wysochanski
It took the better part of a decade and a half to make it happen, but the city of Avon is officially moving forward with the I-90 interchange project.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at Petitti’s Garden Center in Avon on Sept. 15 where officials from the city of Avon, Avon Lake, the Cleveland Clinic and the Jacobs Group gathered.
Avon Mayor Jim Smith aired his frustrations with it taking so long to bring the project to Avon. He first mentioned the idea of an interchange at Nagel Road 16 years ago. He joked about losing hair over it as the years went by.
“I never thought I was going to be able to stand up here and do this after all these years,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be physically able. I actually started wanting the interchange about 16 years ago – I had hair. I can attribute half my baldness to this project.”
Allen Biehl, Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 3 deputy director, acknowledged that the project has been a long haul.
“Unfortunately when you get into projects like this there are a lot of things that need to be done to bring it home,” he said. “A lot of studies need to be done, a lot of design and land acquisition and (working with) the department of transportation is not always a squeaky clean process.”
Biehl said the project will cost approximately $18 million and no state or federal funding will be granted for the project. The money is all coming from collaboration between Avon and the Jacobs Group, he said, which is unique for Northeast Ohio.
“We’ll be doing more of these types of projects in the future but this is definitely a pioneering example of how public and private partnerships can work to bring something to fruition,” he said.
Mike Cope, assistant director of ODOT, said the department has a$2.7 billion budget with a current construction budget of $1.5 billion. He reiterated that not one dime will come from ODOT for the Nagel Project.
“The Jacobs Group and the City of Avon had the commitment to build this from the very beginning,” he said.
Smith acknowledged all the obstacles the city has had to maneuver over the years to make the project a reality.
“This has been a lot of years just trying to get this thing completed,” he said. “We jumped more hurdles than Harrison Dillard did in the Olympics, and some of them were created hurdles. If all the people who said they were going to help us along the way were lifeguards they’d have cement blocks for lifejackets … I wish we’d got some money for the project but I understand there isn’t any.”
The mayor did not hold back with his criticisms of where government money is sometimes spent, citing a project along Route 57 in Elyria in recent years.
“We give a million dollars to put roses on Route 57 but the only thing that was made happy was faces,” he said. “It didn’t create one job except for maybe planting them and probably in three to four years pulling them out because they’ve not been taken care of. Fantastic thought process of creating a lot of jobs with that million dollars – you might as well have taken a match to it and lit it.”
Smith said Avon is creating jobs which will benefit the area. He said the Cleveland Clinic being constructed in Avon will not only bring money to Avon but also Downtown Cleveland.
Additionally, Smith said, the interchange project will bring more people and businesses to the area while dealing with congested traffic at Avon’s other two interchanges.
“We have people we take care of and we are going to continue to take care of them hopefully after I’m gone,” he said of the city working hand in hand with businesses.
All in all, Smith said he is glad the project is finally here, and he is proud of the economic developments the city has made over the years, but he said he still can’t believe how difficult moving forward has been.
“If I seem a little bitter – I am,” he said.
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