Friday, October 17, 2008

The Paper-Highway

The May 1979 cover letter from MVRC to DOT mentions that I-675 was a “paper-highway”; though it was still on paper the bypass was a fait-accompli, already generating and guiding development. Planning and zoning was already being based on the existence of I-675.

This was the case as early as the late 1960s with the Dayton Mall.

The mall developers were looking at the proposed OH 48 interchange as a potential site before settling on the current location near the terminus of I-675. So both sites were probably in consideration due to I-675. In fact the “Mall Area” could have been in speculation since the early 1960’s since the southern alignment was already public knowledge and never in question, and the mall site was also adjacent to an I-75 exit..

I-675 alignment was near-final in 1965 and included in the 1965 transportation plan. The 1976 draft EIS notes that after 1965 “major developers began to consolidate holdings” at the southern terminus, and mentions Galbraith, Mead Corporation, and Oberer by name. Press reports and property maps also show that NCR, Beerman Real Estate, and the Mead family also acquired real estate in this area. DeBartolo was the first mover for retail, building the mall in 1969-70.

Once the mall was open it drove adjacent development, as retail, food, and drink establishments located close to the mall.

After final alignment was decided in the late 1960s one can see how subsequent real estate development was sited to make way for the I-675 right-of-way, as these examples from the southern leg of the highway.

This is the OH 48 interchange site in 1977, showing an early office park undergoing development in ancipation of the bypass, but leaving room for ROW and an exit ramp.

Yet during the 1970s development was sparse. The first spec office development near a proposed I-675 interchange was Governors Square from the early 1970s. By 1977 an office park was under development at the proposed OH 48 interchange (shown in the above graphic). After the northern “Fairborn” segment opened in 1975 the first office park at the northern end of I-675 went under construction across from Wright State, opening in 1977 or 1978.

(Daytonology will look at the evolution of office development along I-675 in a future post)

Only after the final decision for the bypass did development really accelerate, particularly in Greene County (which had the most post-1986 growth) but also in the OH 725 corridor the OH 48 interchange and north of Clyo Road:

A good example is Cross Pointe, built after 1982 by an out-of-town developer on the old alternate site for the Dayton Mall. The first development here was an early big-box, Gold Circle, plus some auto dealers.

Cross Pointe as the poster child of I-675 sprawl in a newspaper article (developer Linclay was from St Louis and was building a skyscraper in downtown Cincy at the same time)

Cross Pointe before and after aerials. The site also included the now-closed Showcase Cinemas, facing the interstate.

Cross Pointe today, one of the larger strip centers in the area.


In retrospect Neal Goldschmidt was correct that the traffic projections justifying I-675 were self-fulfilling, since the highway became more crowded as it generated more development. It was reported that traffic counts were under projections during the first year of operation, before build-out of the interchange areas and residential sprawl beyond.

The MVRPC analyses said retail was not going to be a significant player along I-675, but this proved very wrong as major retail centers developed at all interchanges, especially at Fairfield Road via Fairfield Commons mall.

The impact of retail development on downtown was felt years before the bypass was opened. I-675 alignment drove the Dayton Mall site selection, and the mall opened 16 years before construction completion, drawing addition retail through the 1970s and 80s.

Retail was dying even before the Dayton Mall opened in 1970, but the mall pretty much dealt the mortal blow. Downtown retail was for all intents and purposes dead by the time I-675 opened in 1986. Subsequent impact was in the older suburbs, like Fairborn, Trotwood, Riverside, and Kettering, killing the Salem Mall and sucking strip center shopping to the I-675 interchanges.

The big impact to Dayton city was in lost jobs, particularly white- and pink- collar employment. A large collection of hotels and spec office buildings went up at the interchanges, as well as some light industry. This destroyed the market for downtown hotel rooms and office space, resulting in vacant skyscrapers, closed hotels, and a deserted center city. Development at the interchanges also meant employment opportunities moved away from inner city residents, especially in service industry work.

The suggested mitigations of revenue sharing, subsidized housing, and extended transit never happened, so the economic benefit of I-675 was limited to suburban areas adjacent to the freeway, especially Greene County.

The end result, 22 years after opening, is the “Dayton Banana”, a crescent of new suburban and commercial growth along and to the east and south of I-675, with a stagnant or dying center city and older suburbs.

Everything the opponents of I-675 had predicted has come true.

As a postcript, the final timeline of the NIMBY Forest controversy: a 6-7 years delay between construction periods, and 13 years between the EIS requirement in late 1973 and completion in 1986.

Adding the pre-1973 work and planning, 1957 to 1986, it took 29 years to build I-675.


"TheDonald" said...

It is arguable that all of the "bad effects" of I-675 were inevitable in any event, and if 675 had not been built, the Dayton region itself would have declined much faster than it has anyway. I look at it this way. Metro areas have to market themselves as desirable spots for new development, and beltways are part of that packaging. Every major US metro area has some kind of peripheral beltway with shake-n-bake office parks, retail and services located at every junction along the route. Without a beltway, Dayton would have had to generate other things to keep going economically (alternate universe time there.)

Example of this: I wonder if WPAFB would have remained at its current levels in Dayton if 675 had not been built. Perhaps the base would have been surplussed back in the 90s like so many other military bases at the time.

So, sadly, I look on a belt like I-675 as inevitable in most US city's life cycle. Every large and medium sized city had exactly the same growth patterns. "Old cities" in the US were very unfashionable up through the 70s.

Jefferey said...

I am going to address WPAFB, Fairborn and WPAFB highway connections in the next two weeks.

I've mentioned Neal Goldschmidt in this I-675 series. Goldschmidt, as former mayor of Portland, is leading me to investigate that city as an alternative to what happened here.

Portland does have a partial beltway, but it also has a strong central city.

And that may because Portland did various policy things in the 1970s and 80s (the time of the I-675 delay) that Dayton did not do.

Portland is actually somewhat equivilant to Dayton in government fragmentation as it as around 20 muncipilaties and 3 counties in the metro (on the Oregon side of the Columbia), so this will be interesting to look into.

Anonymous said...

Hi, actually commented on the post prior to this one asking some questions answered here and to be answered later. It'd be nice to have some graphs showing the city economics pre and post I-675 too if it isn't a big deal. My impression agrees with the first commentor that the city was definitely on the way down regardless at that time. Very sad though.

Jefferey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jefferey said...

For a look at retail downtown during the I 675 era here is my post at Urban Ohio:

..I lay in the malls and I-675 on some of the timelines.

Nothing on office or noncommercial, though.

Im going to look at suburbia more in future posts.