In November, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced that a renovated Public Square would stay closed to bus traffic — and now the U.S. Federal Transit Administration is telling the city to pay up for that decision.
On Dec. 20, the FTA issued a notice of debt to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), giving the agency 30 days to repay $12 million in grant money, The Plain Dealer reports.
At issue is 2004 federal funding for the HealthLine bus rapid transit that travels Euclid Avenue, and a deal stating that it would end in Public Square. According to the newspaper, “that route was part of a downtown transit zone meant to make the transit system more efficient and improve cross-town bus circulation.”
Before a much-celebrated $50 million renovation, the square had been separated into four parts, crisscrossed by Superior Avenue (east-west) and Ontario Street (north-south). The redesign had previously closed Ontario Street, but a narrowed Superior Avenue still allowed buses — until the square reopened in 2016 and traffic barriers stayed up. At the time, Jackson cited public opinion (as well as his own preference) for the closure.
In a recent interview (shown on Cleveland.com), Jackson called the federal action premature, and also spoke about the potential dangers of vehicular terrorism, along the lines of what happened in Nice, France.
But while the city and RTA cite potential mitigations for the change, the federal agency’s language is so far clear-cut in what it feels it is owed.
“FTA does not believe the city will change its position on the closure of Public Square and allow GCRTA to resume full operations as it is legally obligated to do under the [Full Funding Grant Agreement],” it writes.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.