(Plain Press, September 2015) In hopes of creating a new park, just south of Denison in the Stockyard neighborhood, Big Creek Connects, a non profit organization dedicated to the stewardship of the Big Creek Valley, hopes to seek funding this fall from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s (NOACA) Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative (TLCI). The TLCI grant would allow further study of the group’s proposed Big Creek/I-71 Relocation and Restoration Initiative.
The March 2015 Big Creek/ I-71 Relocation and Restoration Initiative, prepared by Big Creek Connects, outlines a number of options for restoring the Big Creek, where possible, to its original stream bed in the Stockyards neighborhood, just south of Denison Avenue, and creating a park with a multipurpose trail. One possibility involves the elimination of the entrance and exit ramps to I-71, just east of W. 58th and Denison. This scenario calls for the conversion of the land to a park area that would also link the Big Creek Valley from Brookside Park, extend south through Brooklyn, to the Big Creek Reservation in Parma.
One option, outlined in the study, calls for the removal of most of the Denison access ramps to I-71 and relocating the Cleveland Police Firing Range (south of Denison at W. 58th). The study says this would open up over 50 acres of land to use for potential environmental remediation and recreational use. The study estimates 10 acres would be used for the stream and floodplain, 25 acres for recreational use, 15 acres for roadways, parking and other uses, 1.5 miles for new access roads/parkway and over 5 miles of new all purpose trails.
Bob Gardin, Executive Director of Big Creek Connects, points out that the long northbound exit from I-71 at Denison was originally built in the 1960s to take the Parma Freeway north to connect with I-90. While the Parma Freeway was never built, the long exit remains along with the damage done to the Big Creek in preparing for the Parma Freeway. The creek was placed into a concrete lined channel and much of the contour of the land in the Big Creek Valley was leveled and filled. Gardin hopes to use funds from the Transportation for Livable Communities program for further study of the options outlined in the March 2015 report. He hopes additional the funds will allow Big Creek Connects to: solicit public input, assess economic impacts, perform traffic modeling, and develop a preferred plan with recommendations.
The March 2015 Big Creek/I-71 Relocation & Restoration Initiative reviews a multitude of planning studies for the area; includes maps of the original Big Creek bed; and offers multiple options for the restoration of the Big Creek to some of its natural streambed. The initiative even looks at the possibility of creating a new entrance and exit to I-71 on Ridge Road. The initiative also looks at several ways to create an industrial access road to connect Denison at W. 56 or W. 58th to Ridge Road to benefit area industry. One suggested route connects to an existing road through the Ridge Road Transfer Station. Another route extends the Tradex Parkway across W. 56th and W. 58th and then continues along the southern side of the Norfolk Southern tracks allowing businesses, south of the tracks, to get to Ridge Road without the interference of train traffic.
The study examines the possibility that the City of Cleveland would relinquish the Police Firing Range at the southern end of W. 58th to be used as part of the park.
The plan suggests the benefits of the proposed creek restoration would have for the Stockyard neighborhood and residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre and West Boulevard. The report suggests that the amenities provided through the plan would increase the housing values in the Stockyard neighborhood, reduce traffic and congestion on Denison Avenue and make the area safer and more livable.
The plan looks at the value of creating a natural streambed– reducing the amount of erosion downstream and runoff from the massive amount of concrete that would be eliminated from converting the area under the I-71 ramps into parkland.
The plan also looks at the possible impact of creating a full freeway entrance and exit for I-71 at Ridge Road, saying this could benefit area industry with greater freeway access and relieve truck traffic congestion on Denison. It is hoped this will spur economic development opportunities for both the City of Cleveland and the City of Brooklyn.
The March 2015 Big Creek/I-71 Relocation & Restoration Initiative was funded by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Cleveland City Council through the support of Councilmen Brian Cummins and Councilman Kevin Kelley, and the City of Brooklyn. Gardin estimates that, in addition to the $32,000 in funding for the project, the initiative received in-kind contributions in the form of “pro-bono and volunteer assistance from federal, state and local government departments and agencies, several professional consultants, and board members with expertise in key technical areas.” Gardin estimates that, when these contributions are included, the total value of the March 2015 study is roughly $60,000.
Gardin says Big Creek Connects applied for funds from the 2016 Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative for a planning grant for the Big Creek/I-71 Relocation & Restoration Initiative. While the proposal was turned down, NOACA staff promised to work with Big Creek Connects and the City of Brooklyn to “identify key project elements for an application for the next round of TLCI expected this fall.”
The Big Creek/I-71 Relocation & Restoration Initiative March 2015 report cautions that, even if the proposed TLCI planning grant is received, the project will take many years to reach fruition. The study says under the best conditions it is likely to take 10 years or more for any construction to begin on this project. It also cautions that the Ohio Department of Transportation District 12 has committed its funds for many years to the completion of the Cleveland Innerbelt.