Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Enchanted NIMBY Forest III: Mitigation & Federal Involvment

In 1977 the suburban environmental/NIMBY opposition to I-675 turned into a full-scale freeway revolt. In 1978 and ‘79 the I-675 controversy elevated to the Federal level via involvement by the Carter administration, including the Secretary of Transportation and the White House staff. Two DOT secretaries were involved; former Seattle congressman Brock Adams and former Portland, Oregon mayor Neal Goldschmidt

Locally, “mitigation” became a hot topic, with negotiations between the city (mostly McGee & Roach) the business community, and the local Democratic party boss Joe Shump, who sided with the business community, but tried to broker a compromise.

1978: Opposition organizes and the Feds get involved.

The year started off inauspiciously when a city commissioner was denied the chairmanship of the Transportation Coordinating Committee, or TCC, because he opposed I-675. The commissioner would later be kicked off the TCC subcommittee working on I-675. TCC was dominated by suburban governments, with Greene County representatives, particularly Fairborn and Beavercreek, playing a vocal role in supporting the bypass

Early in the year the Citizens Against I-675 formed as a coalition of anti-I-675 forces. One, the Black Political Assembly, was led by a young Dean Lovelace. Citizens Against I-675 fought back against the TCC, sending a letter to DOT requesting that the organization be de-certified as planning agent for the bypass, and requesting rejection of the environmental impact statement as flawed. The group also considered retaining a lawyer to fight the freeway.

The EIS was rejected on the grounds of air pollution issues and failure to consider socioeconomic impacts, resulting in a do-over. Citizens against I-675 also pushed for a comments period for the do-over EIS.

Also during this year Pat Roach engaged the Federal bureaucracy, releasing a letter from Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams stating that I-675 funds could have been directed to other transportation projects, both roads or mass transit. Adams’ letter was completely contrary to what ODOT told the city commission the previous year.

Later in the year HUD became involved, questioning the freeway’s housing and urban impacts. This communication was at the department level, in Washington. It’s unclear if Pat Roach, McGee, or others in the city were involved in engaging HUD on the issue, although a later news article indicates the city was better at playing the Feds to oppose the road, implying ongoing contact.

1979 Winter & Spring: DOT has Reservations + More Corporate Pressure

The EIS was finally completed in early 1979 and the D J-H, now with a conservative editorial board, published an op-ed supporting the bypass.

But, as we have seen, HUD had reservations. In March Pat Roach again engaged with the Feds, sending a letter to Brock Adams that the city commission was misled by ODOT and pressured by the business community to support the bypass.

Roaches’ letter and HUD opposition led Adams to require detailed data on socioeconomic impacts. This was requested from the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, or MVRPC. MVRPC was a supporter of the road, and their chair, Nora Lake, was on the Centerville city council.

In April the Mead Corporation leaned on Pat Roach.

Mead tried to convince Roach to reverse or soften her position at a “confidential meeting” called by Mead and attended by staff from John Glenn’s office, DOT, HUD, and the Mead CEO. Roach wouldn’t budge. The day after the meeting the Mead CEO released a warning sent to the Feds that “...the local business community will question continuation of the present level of supportto the city’s revitalization plans...” if I-675 was not approved.

One wonders if the intended audience here wasn’t the Feds but the city commission

In May MVRPC responded to Adams’ request by recommended the road be built via a strongly worded cover letter that minimized possible negative impacts and presenting the bypass as a fait accompli since it was already driving development decisions. MVRPC also recommended nine mitigating actions, noting that some suburbs along the bypass route hadn’t supported regional planning or housing efforts.

The 9 mitigating actions where:

1. 10% Minority set-aside for construction contracting
2. HUD earmarks for Section 8 housing in the I-675 corridor
3. Adoption of MVRC assisted housing plan by local governments in corridor
4. Adoption of regional plan by local governments in corridor
5. Local governments submit interchange developments for MVRPC & TCC for review
6. Adoption of MVRPC fair housing plan (non-discrimination for minorities)
7. Expand RTA
8. Revenue Sharing
9. Dayton develop transit & pedestrian emphasis on Main Street

Also during this time frame opposition was surfacing from other citizens groups in Greene County, as well as from Bellbrook, which wanted to stop development encroaching on the still somewhat exurban Sugarcreek Township.

1979 Summer: Mitigation Proposals and Non-Negotiable Demands.

In July the city informed Adams that it couldn’t support I-675 until mitigation actions were taken, leading to various mitigation proposals and negotiations involving local Democratic boss Joe Shump.

In addition to the MVRPC mitigations the following were in discussion during the summer:

  • Funding of US 35 extension/Trotwood Connector
  • Annexation of Wright-Patterson AFB
  • Annexation of the airport
  • Recapitalization of Citywide Development Corporation
  • Business retention & expansion assistance
  • Assistance to city in marketing urban renewal industrial sites
  • Unified regional growth plan
  • Commitment to inner ring revitalization

The Chamber of Commerce opposed Wright-Patterson annexation. The suburbs opposed revenue sharing and the annexations, so on the money and tax issues issue there was an impasse.

What’s interesting about these and the 1977 proposals wasthe consensus that I-675 would harm the city, hence the willingness of road proponents to even discuss mitigation.

I-675 was recognized as a new employment center, with estimates of up to 27,000 jobs to locate along the bypass. This probably was a rationale for annexing the base, as it had an employment around 25,000 around this time, which would compensate for jobs lost to the highway.

In August the various proposals and counterproposals came to naught when the city rejected the Shump compromise, holding out for base annexation. McGee said that some of his demands where non-negotiable, and he made good on that statement, but also indicated he didn’t trust Shump and the business community to make good on promises of mitigation.

Also in August, in what proved to be a fateful turn of events for I-675, Neal Goldschmidt was named Secretary of Transportation. Goldschmidt became mayor of Portland in 1983 via a freeway revolt against the Mount Hood Expressway, (briefly noted in the previous post) and his election was seen as tantamount to a referendum on that road. Under his term as mayor funds for the freeway where diverted to other road projects and the first Portland light rail line, and Portland embarked on growth control measures. So Goldschmidt was bringing some relevant political history to the table.

I-675 proponents decided to bypass the city and make their case directly to the Feds.
Ultimately the White House sent staff to investigate. Reports indicate that staff was skeptical about the mitigation proposals, questioning if they were “sincere” or a “whitewash”. The White House also undercut the city position by decoupling base annexation from I-675, saying it would be addressed as a separate issue (annexation required Secretary of Defense approval).

1979 Fall: Disapproved by the Secretary of Transportation

In September and October city commission voted to support the interstate as far as US 35, and opposed extension to the Dayton Mall. Since the locals where at an impasse it was up to the Feds to make a decision.

Apparently Pat Roach, as a leader of the I-675 oppostion, crossed party boss Joe Shump, as she was not endorsed by the Democrats for re-election to the city commission. Roach ended up the top vote getter in November, defeating the endorsed Democrats and retaining her seat on the commission.

On 29 November Goldschmidt disapproved I-675 south US 35, removing it from the Interstate program.

Major justifications for disapproval were the adverse economic impact on Dayton city, the questionable, self-justifying traffic projections (I-675 as “self fulfilling prophecy”), and no consideration of transit improvements. Goldschmidt did say the $90M set aside for the interestate (1979 dollars) would be remain in the area for transportation improvements.

Apparently Goldschmidt didn’t trust the locals to make-good on the various mitigation proposals, which one suspects is a safe assumption. Goldschmidts’ history as part of the Portland freeway revolt and his background as mayor of Portland would predispose him to side with Dayton city on the issue anyway. Finally, to approve I-675 would be 100% contrary to Carter’s urban policy of strengthening urban cores and minimizing projects that would do harm to core cities.

Yet Goldschmidt waffled, indicating he might approve a downgraded highway south of I-675, at least as far as Indian Ripple Road, leaving an opening to revisit a downgraded highway as an alternative.

The story of the “Quasi-Expressway”, I-675 as a campaign issue in the Reagan/Carter contest, and final decision is up next.

Our story so far

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