Government

Eastgate Does More than Transportation Planning, Chief Says

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – James Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, would like to set the record straight: Eastgate isn’t a transportation agency.

At least, that’s not all it is, he said Monday.

The issue came to light, he said, at Friday’s “Good Morning, Austintown” breakfast when he provided an update of local road projects. He spent 15 minutes discussing what else the agency does, he said.

“It’s important to let everybody know that we’re not just a transportation agency,” he said Monday at Eastgate’s general policy board meeting.

Eastgate is the state regional planning organization responsible for Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.

“We do [transportation,] we do that well, but we have other arms,” he said. “We’re an economic development agency. We’re a water quality agency.” Eastgate works with the Appalachian Regional Commission and oversees transit agencies, he added.

In its economic development role, Eastgate acts as a “unifier [to] bring people together and get the right people in a room,” he said.

One initiative Eastgate is exploring this year is a freight plan.

“People talk about moving goods and services and everybody thinks of [Interstate] 80 through Youngstown,” he said. “A freight plan really talks about the first and last mile, and the first mile mainly is getting trucks onto the interstate and the last one getting trucks off of the interstate.”

A good example of a freight plan would be examining the Bailey Road interchange in North Jackson to learn what could be done to help FedEx or other trucking-based companies have easier access and egress, he continued.

During the policy board meeting, Tony Urankar, District 4 deputy director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, gave an update on transportation projects, including progress on the state’s effort to test and develop autonomous vehicles in the state. ODOT has invested $15 million in the U.S. Route 33 corridor near Marysville and the next transportation budget proposes expanding that for the Interstate 90 corridor from the Pennsylvania state line to Interstate 271 in Cuyahoga County, as well as a portion of Interstate 270 for developers to test such vehicles, he said, largely because of how variable Ohio weather is.

“Even though California and a lot of other places are developing the technology, they still can’t develop the weather situations we have for the testing,” he remarked. They can’t simulate 50-degree weather one day and 20-degree conditions the next, he said.

“What we hope to do is to get more manufacturers, as they test this equipment, to be working throughout our state and also be working in the unique weather Ohio [has], he said.

Closer to home, work will continue on the $91.5 million widening of I-80 through Mahoning and Trumbull counties between state routes 11 and 193. ODOT and the Ohio State Highway Patrol will work together to enforce posted speed limits the construction areas, Urankar said.

“There’s still a great deal of work that needs to go on over these next two construction seasons but also to make sure it’s a safe drive for the motorists,” he said. “We’ll be ticketing as necessary.”

Completion is scheduled in 2019, but ODOT will be “mostly off the road” by the end of next year, he said.

During the meeting, the policy board recommended to the Appalachian Regional Commission that several infrastructure and road projects be funded. One is a recommendation for $250,000 to Trumbull County commissioners to pay for a 15,000-linear-foot sanitary sewer line in Liberty Township.

The $3.05 million sewer project would serve 125 households and support Shepherd of the Valley’s new $34 million community. The center is expected to create 128 jobs, said Kathy Zook, ARC program manager for Eastgate.

“That is our No. 1 project because it is economic development and job creation with improvements on the infrastructure,” Zook said.

Another recommendation is $185,000 be released to support Youngstown State University’s purchase of advanced manufacturing equipment.

Pictured: James Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.