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The Road to Opportunity: Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor, Section 3

The Road to Opportunity: Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor, Section 3


As the largest city on Lake Erie and one of the most populous urban areas in the country, the City of Cleveland, Ohio, was designed as a global city and today, more than 370,000 people call the city proper home, while the Cleveland-Akron-Canton Combined Statistical Area has a population of more than 3,600,000. A busy metropolis, Cleveland’s economy relies on diversified sectors, including manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, biomedicals and higher education, with notable destinations and businesses including the Cleveland Clinic, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Cleveland Orchestra. However, not all areas of the city were being utilized to their full potential. 

The area between the terminus of Interstate 490 and University Circle in Cleveland, traversing the Fairfax, Kinsman, and Central neighborhoods, had become known as the “Forgotten Triangle” due to a lack of economic activity and investment. Encompassing nearly 1,000 acres on Cleveland’s southeast side, the Cleveland City Council Wards 5 and 6 neighborhoods had been a hub of heavy industry since the 1880s. However, population and investment in the area had declined and by the early 2000s, the neighborhood was experiencing abandonment and neglect. 

Photo: ODOT/Kokosing Construction

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the City of Cleveland recognized the “Forgotten Triangle” as a remarkable opportunity for neighborhood regeneration. An Opportunity Corridor Steering Committee was formed with representatives from ODOT, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Area Community Development Corporations (CDC), Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), residents, business owners, and other local stakeholders.  

After completing the Opportunity Corridor Study, three primary needs for the area were identified: 

  • Improving system linkage among the roads, neighborhoods, and businesses in the area
  • Improving mobility between the Interstate system and University Circle
  • Supporting planned economic development

In late 2021, the long-awaited Opportunity Corridor, a new three-mile roadway that runs from East 55th Street at Interstate 490 to East 105th Street, reached substantial completion. The 35-mph boulevard includes a median, crosswalks, pedestrian and traffic signals, a multi-use path, tree lawns and vehicular, pedestrian and rail bridges. The thoroughfare not only brings enhanced transportation, mobility, and connectivity benefits to this area of Cleveland, but it is also spurring new economic development, new jobs and a new identity for the community. Additionally, it enhances access to Cleveland’s cultural hub, healthcare, and educational facilities. 

The Opportunity Corridor project was split into three sections. Design-Build was selected as the project delivery method for Section 3, with Michael Baker International serving as the lead designer and Kokosing Construction as lead contractor. This section, a new five-lane boulevard facility, features: 

  • Two miles of new roadway on new alignment  
  • Seven signalized intersections  
  • Seven bridges of various types 
  • Four groups of retaining walls 
  • Three Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater treatment 
  • New sanitary, storm and combined sewers
  • Electric, storm, and sanitary stubs installed for future development

Accounting for Existing Railroad and Transit Infrastructure 

Because of the location of the “Forgotten Triangle,” work required significant coordination with, and adjustments to, cargo railroads and commuter transit infrastructure.

When it comes to excavations for major projects, particularly in densely developed urban areas, there are alternatives to the conventional bottom-up building approach. As was the case with Opportunity Corridor, Section 3, the team employed top-down construction versus the bottom-up method. Michael Baker recommended this method because of its many benefits, including:

  • The ability to construct substructure elements such as abutments and piers from existing grade elevation downwards without prior excavation or the need for extensive amounts of temporary shoring.
  • The ability to construct retaining walls from existing grade elevation downwards without prior excavation or the need for extensive amounts of temporary shoring.
  • Allowing construction of bridges at the ground level, reducing the equipment necessary for erecting and detailing bridge superstructures.
  • Better overall construction schedule flexibility with disposition of excavated materials.
Photo: ODOT/Kokosing Construction

The new Norfolk Southern mainline bridge over the Opportunity Corridor required this phased, top-down design approach and a shoofly relocation to maintain the Norfolk Southern tracks. Section 1 involved the relocation of Norfolk Southern to the east, while a portion of the new bridge was constructed. Section 2 involved the relocation of Norfolk Southern onto the newly constructed portion of the bridge while the remainder of the bridge was constructed. The final phase shifted Norfolk Southern to its final location in the center of the bridge. Drilled shafts were used for pier and abutment foundations in conjunction with top-down construction. Due to the relatively long spans and substructure deflection limits, drilled shafts included heavy reinforcement and embedded steel shapes. A concrete facing was installed on the drilled shafts after the embankment below the bridge was excavated to allow for the new roadway beneath.  

The E. 55th Street structure was also constructed via top-down methods to maintain traffic along E. 55th Street. This single span, 108’ long, bridge included semi-integral abutments founded on 24” closed-end pipe piles. Similar to the Norfolk Southern crossing, a concrete facing was installed on new piling post excavation. The piling was oriented as a frame to withstand the large overturning moments due to the depth of excavation. Limited right-of-way and poor soil conditions at this location limited more traditional methods such as tied back foundations or drilled shafts.  

The project also required crossing the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) Blue Green line and the needed structures were curved with a 57-degree skew. The tracks below were along a curved alignment, which combined with existing utility conflicts, severely limited substructure placement, necessitating a refined superstructure analysis to finalize designs.

Addressing Drainage and the Stormwater 

Another major aspect of the Opportunity Corridor, Section 3 project addressed drainage and stormwater within the project area. Michael Baker’s drainage design services included hydrologic and hydraulic modeling of the storm sewer system using advanced modeling software. The firm used the citywide model to evaluate proposed stormwater alternatives for the new roadway and impacts on the existing sewer system. The model was also used to size the proposed drainage and diversion structures.

The Opportunity Corridor, Section 3 project is located within a combined sewer service area, with outfalls to two different treatment plants (Easterly and Southerly). The project could not add peak flows within the combined sewer system but was able to utilize the various branches of the Kingsbury Run Culvert Stormwater Outlet (SWO) to remove large portions of the drainage area.  And that all new storm outfall locations received stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP) in accordance with ODOT L&D Volume 2 requirements and outlet into SWO outfalls in accordance with NEORSD requirements on the Kingsbury Run system where feasible. 

Realizing the Opportunities

The Opportunity Corridor provides connections to rail, transit, commercial transportation, an industrial park, and residential neighborhoods. During five years of design and construction, developers recognized the opportunity and invested approximately $1 billion in projects within a quarter mile of the corridor. Opportunities for additional developments, such as the Northeast Ohio Food Hub, exist along the corridor. The project is aligned with the city’s effort to restore jobs and new housing opportunities along the boulevard. It also provided multi-modal connections between neighborhoods and public transportation facilities that were previously separated by numerous natural and man-made barriers. The approach to bring an all-encompassing improvement to the “Forgotten Triangle” addressed the area’s needs for multiple transportation options and neighborhood expansion. Additional improvements make the area a true destination, including safer pedestrian spaces, two pedestrian bridges, and a future connection to the Cuyahoga Greenways Network, which connects hundreds of miles of existing and expanding bike routes.

Forgotten no longer, the Opportunity Corridor is an important transportation investment towards revitalizing Cleveland’s Fairfax, Kinsman and Central neighborhoods, opening up new opportunities and building a vibrant environment for residents and visitors alike. 

Design-Build Design Project Manager Lawrence P. Ciborek, P.E., Project Manager – Bridge at Michael Baker International 

Design-Build Lead Roadway Engineer Sean Milroy, P.E., PMP, DBIA, Project Manager – Transportation at Michael Baker International 

Design-Built Lead Structures Engineer Chris Cummings, P.E., DBIA, Department Manager – Bridge at Michael Baker International 

Owners Representative Julie A. Meyer, P.E., Opportunity Corridor Project Manager at Ohio Department of Transportation 

Design-Build Project Manager Kerry Hart, DBIA, Senior Area Manager at Kokosing Construction