Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Enchanted NIMBY Forest II: The Great Expressway Fight

Another installment in the continuing the saga of I-675 in the 1970s.

It took from the end of 1973 to December 1976 to have the draft EIS ready for review. In 1974 budget shortfalls resulted in ODOT saying the state would not be able to support its share of the interstate until 1980.

Also, during this period changes occurred in local government that would effect I-675.

Dayton elected its first black mayor, James McGee, in 1972, and it’s first female city commissioner, Pat Roach, in 1975. McGee and Roach were to play key roles in the upcoming controversy, becoming political allies in the fight against I-675

Roach apparently supported the DART light rail concept as she stated in the summer of 1976 that the line should be built instead of I-675, probably one of the earliest opposing statements not coming from the Oak Creek association. And it would turn out Roaches’ remarks were a harbinger of controversy as 1977 would be the year opposition widened beyond a suburban NIMBY movement to a regional issue.

1977: Winter & Spring: Building Opposition

The EIS opened for comment in December 1976, and widespread opposition quickly surfaced in the winter and early spring of 1977, with the Oak Creek residents being joined by political forces in Dayton city, Bellbrook, and elsewhere.

The Transportation Coordinating Committee (TCC), a consortium of local officials coordinating highway construction in Greene and Montgomery counties, was the lead local group for the freeway, and even their citizens advisory group, the “Council of Citizens” stated the EIS was a mere “justification for I-675”, not seriously assessing public transport or secondary impacts.

Another citizens group the “Citizens Information Task Force”, recommended the highway be rerouted to swing further east and have only two interchanges, at OH 48 (Far Hills Road) and US 35, essentially killing the road as sprawl generator while maintaining the bypass concept. Of course as we know from the siting controversies in the 1960s the highway was never intended to be a true bypass.

A Kettering city councilman recommended a less drastic solution, swinging the highway south of the enchanted NIMBY forest and installing noise mitigation features.

Probably the most significant opposition came from Dayton city, where Pat Roach organized a hearing as a platform for bypass opponents, including former city manager Jim Kunde who opined the freeway was “blatant economic discrimination” as it would move jobs away from the city. Kunde was joined by the head of Citywide Development, who stated that I-675 would move “open the way to the suburbs at the expense of the city”.

The day after this hearing, February 9th, the city commission voted to delay endorsement of the EIS.

In March RAPCA, the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, another local product of the 1960s environmental ferment, opposed I-675 on environmental grounds, and recommended a light rail system as an alternative. Also in March, the Oak Creek Environmental committee said it might seek an injunction against the bypass on environmental grounds.

1977: Summer: The Business Community & “Mitigation”

In June the local business community became more involved via the Chamber of Commerce, which included the head of the Dayton Newspapers.

The Chamber of Commerce acknowledged the adverse impact of I-675 on the city and proposed a set of mitigating measures:

1. Revenue sharing between city and suburbs
2. Task force to secure high-risk capital for city businesses
3. Support of center city housing
4. Expansion of mass transit.

This was the first appearance of a continuing theme of the I-675 controversy; mitigation of the adverse impact of the interstate on Dayton city via various forms of compensation, as a way to secure city approval of the bypass. The ongoing negotiation between the city, (in the person of Mayor McGee) and bypass proponents became a part of the controversy.

In the end no mitigations were adopted and Dayton city never shared in the economic benefit of I-675.

1977 Fall: Business and Highway Interests Twist Arms

During the1970s and perhaps earlier a shadowy private business group, the Area Progress Council, or APC, made up of “CEOs, industrialists, civic leaders, and businessmen” acted behind the scenes on local issues.

Perhaps a local example of a “community power structure” the APC attempted to co-opt local politicians, as they made campaign contributions to people like McGee, perhaps to put a black face on white power. It turned out McGee was more a Coleman Young than an Uncle Tom.

The APC public position was that I-675 was economic development issue. Dayton would be competitive with Columbus and Cincinnati by building a bypass since these cities were also building (or had already built) beltways. But there might have been a hidden agenda as well, one involving real estate investment.

In November the APC representative (NCR PR director) spoke at a commission hearing advocating for city approval of the interstate. When asked if the APC membership had real estate or business interests along the bypass route he answered “not to my knowledge”

This proved to be false, either a deliberate lie or he didn’t really know.

In December, research by an African-American newspaper, the Dayton Black Press, and the Congregation of Reconciliation (an activist church group) proved that major local business interests, the Mead Corporation, NCR, and Beerman Realty, owned 749 acres of land along the right-of-way. (This misses the property owned by the Mead family, Oberer real estate, and other interested parties either near or adjacent to proposed interchanges)

The APC spokesman was adamant that there was no conflict of interest, but behind the scenes APC members where pressuring the city commission to vote “yes” on the bypass. Pat Roach reported to the press that APC members told her “the expressway will be build regardless of her position”. Other commission members and the mayor also reported pressure tactics but were more circumspect than Roach.

ODOT also weighed-in, telling the city commission that federal funding would be lost if the city opposed the bypass, and could not be redirected to other projects, including mass transit.

This proved to be false, and would play into later Federal level decisions on the bypass.

The city commission voted twice in December:

1. Dec 15. Compelte I-675 to US 35, but no further, and to put a higher priority on the US 35/Trotwood connector.

2. Dec 28. Complete I-675 to I-75 (full project), but with the understanding that the state and Feds would proceed with US 35 and Trotwood Connector.

During these votes McGee switched his vote, supporting I-675 in the final vote. McGee would reverse position in next two years as the controversy escalated.

Taking a quick look on the map, here are three alternative proposals mapped out:

First, the RAPCA light rail concept, which at this point would have been the DART starter line, but may have extended in other directions (including to the Dayton Mall on I-675 ROW)

Second: the completion of I-675 to US 35. This would have been the recommended rout of the early 1960s “immediate need” limited access proposal.

Third the US 35/Trotwood connector. But by the early 1970s these routes were being revisited into something less ambitious, as per this diagram from the 1970s.

In any case one can see a more balanced approach being proposed by institutions outside of the local power structure and highway organizations, one that would have opened west and northwest Montgomery County up to development, and the start of a rapid transit concept that would have focused on the center city, being an armature for transit oriented development out into suburbia. .

The Continuing Controversy

Though appeared the I-675 opponents were defeated events during 1978 and 1979 proved otherwise. The controversy moved to Federal level while locally the city sparred with the suburbs and business community in an increasingly bitter battle.


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