Development Leaders Tell Brown Their Infrastructure Priorities

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown pledged Friday to support local efforts to capitalize on federal infrastructure money available through the bipartisan infrastructure law that was approved last year.

During a roundtable held at the Eastgate Council of Governments office downtown, Mahoning Valley planning and development leaders updated Brown, D-Ohio, on efforts to connect residents of local communities to employment opportunities via transportation infrastructure and broadband upgrades.

“I can’t guarantee any of these will be funded,” Brown said. “I can guarantee that they will have their strongest advocate with my working for direct congressionally directed spending and for the bidding on transportation and transit projects.”

Among the initiatives roundtable participants outlined was the region’s application for the $25 million Logistics Innovation and Vehicle Electrification – or Live – Zone project in the Lordstown area.

The partners applied earlier this year for about $24.5 million for the project from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity – or Raise – grant program. The project aims to capitalize on growing opportunities in the logistics and electric vehicle space.

“Nearly 20% of freight traffic by weight goes right though this area so we’re doing our best to try to take advantage of that,” said Steven Zubyk, Eastgate transportation engineer. The plan additionally focuses on using smart technologies.

Separately being developed in the Lordstown/North Jackson area is a micro-mobility center to help bring in workforce from Youngstown and Warren, “where we have a high percentage of low-income individuals that need access to jobs,” said Mirta Reyes-Chapman, transit program manager at Eastgate.

“This area has a love of the car. Everybody want to get in the car and get to their destinations,” she said. “But what about people who don’t have cars or access to a car or car insurance, or not making a living wage to buy a car?”

Western Reserve Transit Authority is attempting to purchase land for the project, which executive director Dean Harris expects to cost about $1.25 billion, including land and construction. “I would like to have it in three years or less,” he said.

In the Crab Creek area of Youngstown’s east side, local partners told Brown they are seeking $400,000 to conduct a connectivity study for the Youngstown Equitable & Sustainable – or YES – Streets Initiative. The objectives including sparking job creation on more than 2,000 acres of commercial site near the Interstate 80 national freight corridor to leverage funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“This is an area that’s historically been underserved – low income, high minority population – and we’ve just seen a lack of investment,” said Emil N. Liszniansky, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act coordinator for Eastgate. The idea is to open the area’s brownfield sites “to have employment centers close to where people reside,” and can connect to transit or even walk or bike to jobs.

President Joe Biden has directed 40% of all federal dollars to be spent in historically underserved communities, Liszniansky pointed out.

In March, Youngstown officials took U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Alejandra Castillo on a bus tour of the Crab Creek area to showcase the opportunity it presents, said Nikki Posterli, chief of staff to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and director of community planning and economic development.

Following Castillo’s visit, the city received an $80,000 redevelopment study grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help the city determine best courses of action to return industrial sites back into productive use.

“What we want to look at is how do we … tie into what’s happening regionally on a more local level to increase transportation, mobility, broadband,” Posterli said.

“In some way this mirrors Lordstown,” Mike Hripko, a consultant working with Eastgate, said. “It’s accessible to Interstate 80, there’s plenty of quality land and developable jobs, and it’s accessible by a large number of city of Youngstown residents.”

Reyes-Chapman called for reviewing the infrastructure and land use policies that are in place and implementing compete street, smart growth and transit oriented development policies “so you have a livable, sustainable community.”

Youngstown is the second-least digitally connected city in Ohio and Warren is the fifth least connected city, Mark Ragozine, economic development planner with Eastgate, said. He called attention to the regional broadband feasibility study and efforts to promote digital equity,

Digital equity is one of the bigger obstacles we have in this region,” Ragozine said. “The things that we can do in this sphere will impact not only our urban deserts in terms of broadband but also rural areas such as northern Trumbull County and southern and eastern Ashtabula County.”

The local partners will be seeking federal lawmakers’ support for funding for the proposed fiber-expansion along state Route 11 through Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. They will apply by the September deadline for Middle Mile grant program funded by the infrastructure act.

Brown reiterated his intent to help ensure that Ohio receives not just its fair share but “more than our fair share” of funds from the infrastructure bill.

One of the legislation’s most important provisions is the requirement that American-made materials be used in projects, he said. Brown cited the example of a bridge in California that was built using Chinese made steel that ended up being low quality.

“We’re not giving communities that option,” except for occasional waiver when there isn’t an American product that can be used, Brown said. He also acknowledged a “bias” in the infrastructure bill to use union labor in projects.

“Union labor means you get you get better quality and you get better income for workers, and that raises all boats when we all do better,” Brown said.

Pictured at top: Marty Loney, president of the Western Reserve Building Trades Council, and Nikki Posterli, chief of staff to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and director of community planning and economic development, were two of the participants in the roundtable discussion with the U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.