Journal Opinion: Repairing Downtown Roads

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A popular Ohio joke is that the state has two seasons: winter and construction, with ubiquitous orange barrels and pylons competing with the normal flora that accompanies warmer temperatures.

In downtown Youngstown, construction markers have become year-round fixtures.  Streets have been torn up for months as part of the $27.65 million Smart2 Network project and, in some cases, parts of what were thought to be finished streets are now reclosed for new work.

Downtown property owners, their tenants, businesses and the people who come to downtown Youngstown for work or leisure – especially those in the area of Front Street near Covelli Centre – were surprised to find a portion of the street closed off once again in early March.

It’s particularly unwelcome for downtown stakeholders and visitors who already navigate the many detours caused by closed sections of Federal and Commerce streets. Front was restricted for months last year while work was being done for the project.

Now, without warning, the city has closed off a portion of Front Street. Again. The closure is to accommodate work on an underground vault owned by FirstEnergy that required digging up the road. Again.

Meanwhile, access to downtown buildings remains hampered. East Federal in front of City Centre One – a building that houses three of the region’s major economic development entities (Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments), not to mention other for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations – has been closed for months. This situation cannot help but have affected downtown businesses that already suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then there is safety, as motorists find themselves having to avoid accidents as they navigate the streets that remain open.

All of this is taking place in an environment in which downtown stakeholders and visitors feel like they’ve been kept in the dark. We’ve counseled patience, but that patience wears thin as weeks stretch into months with little communication from city officials.

There was no shortage of news coverage when $10.85 million in federal transportation funds were awarded for the major downtown road upgrade and other milestone events associated with it, including the November 2021 reopening of Fifth Avenue.

Alas, full transparency regarding the status of these projects is critical. The city’s department of public works initially hosted virtual briefings for downtown stakeholders, but those haven’t taken place for months. Where is the outreach by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and other officials to downtown businesses, residents and the general public?  Aren’t we deserving of regular updates on the progress of the project, how it will look, and how the broader community will benefit from it?  

There’s no question that public confidence is as shattered as parts of Commerce and Federal streets are now.  Repairs are needed – soon.