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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Public Square Traffic Study Begins Tomorrow, Jackson Seeks Intercession from DOT Secretary

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 5:26 PM

click to enlarge SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
The city and RTA, with help from traffic engineering consultants at Parsons-Brinckerhoff, will conduct traffic counts Wednesday at seven downtown intersections.

This is to establish baseline data as part of the first formal traffic study at Public Square since its renovation. Superior Avenue has been closed to buses at Mayor Jackson's continued insistence since the Square re-opened in July. The study is meant to determine the extent of the operational impact on RTA caused by re-routing buses around the Square.

[In what may be, but likely isn't, an inadvertent tic, city officials continue to say that the study will determine if re-routing buses has an impact, as opposed to, e.g., 'the degree to which...']

The goal, of course, is to present information generated by the study to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in the hopes of dissuading the agency from collecting a $12 million debt. That money was given to RTA as part of a larger grant for the Euclid Corridor project in 2004. The FTA wants it back, having warned RTA more than once that a closure of Superior Avenue represents a breach of contract. On Dec. 20, the FTA delivered a letter initiating debt collection, giving the RTA 30 days to pay the $12 million in full or file an appeal.

The traffic study was supposed to have begun today but was postponed due to weather. It's not scheduled to be completed until Jan. 18, one day before the payment deadline.

That's why Mayor Jackson has written a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, requesting that he intercede on the city's behalf and grant an extension on the deadline so that the city and RTA may more thoroughly analyze the data. (The FTA is an agency housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation.)

Jackson stated once again that if RTA can demonstrate "great operational or financial harm," and if the city's safety concerns can be "adequately addressed," he'll re-open the square.

(There's still debate, of course, about whether Jackson had authority to unilaterally close the Square in the first place.)

The city's Chief of Operations Darnell Brown and RTA CEO and General Manager Joe Calabrese, in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, reiterated comments previously made by the Mayor. They said that they're hoping to mitigate delays — "mitigate" being everyone's favorite word these days — by using strategies like traffic signal prioritization and dedicated lanes elsewhere in the downtown transit zone.

Calabrese said tomorrow's study will examine 14 "areas of opportunity" for the implementation of such strategies. In response to a question about traffic mitigation strategies referenced in a 2004 interagency agreement between the city and RTA, he said that those referred exclusively to Euclid Avenue, and that the methods currently being explored are over and above the requirements laid out in that document.

Brown said that preparations for the current study have been ongoing for several weeks, "planning it and scoping it out." Those conducting the study will attempt to determine traffic flow if Superior Avenue were opened by putting numbers into a computer model. He confirmed that Superior will not be opened for the purposes of the study.

He said, as Calabrese and Jackson said at the first Public Square press conference on Nov. 15, that the ultimate goal is to seek "FTA concurrence."

And, just as before, there is no backup plan if DOT Sec. Foxx denies the extension and/or if FTA denies an appeal.

Responded Darnell Brown, when asked about the prospect: "That's still to be determined."

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