Mayors from the 30 biggest cities in Ohio are joining forces in hopes of getting more state money for infrastructure projects, such as the Western Hills Viaduct.
The Ohio Mayor’s Alliance was officially announced at a press conference on Friday morning in Columbus where mayors from across the state, including Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, spoke about the economic challenges facing large and mid-sized cities.
“We need help from the state to pay for the Western Hills Viaduct … and it seems to be deadlocked in Columbus,” Cranley said. “We want a voice as cities, Democrats and Republicans across Ohio, calling for the state to do more on infrastructure.”
The mayors represent big cities such as Cleveland and Columbus, as well as smaller ones such as Fairfield and Hamilton. But they all share a common feeling – that urban areas fuel the state’s growth but are not being given a fair share of funding for large projects.
“Previous state budget cuts have hurt our ability to strengthen our communities and foster economic development,” said Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter. “We intend to communicate that, but we also intend to build a positive relationship with state partners around our shared goals of job creation and economic growth.”
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said her city can only afford to fix city roads, and doesn't have the funds to also repair state roads, such as rebuilding Salem Avenue and widening State Route 35.
"It used to be that the state would pay to fix its own roads," Whaley said. "Now they will only do it if the funding matches from cities are incredibly high."
State funding for public transit has plunged in Ohio from $15.8 million in 2008 to roughly $7 million in 2015. Ohio only spends 63 cents per capita, among the lowest in the nation, on public transit.
The state also faces a slew of aging roads and bridges. The Western Hills Viaduct in Cincinnati, built in 1932, is quickly reaching the end of its life span, with deteriorating concrete and structural steel.
As the main bridge for commuters from Western neighborhoods into Downtown, it would cost $240 million to rebuild the viaduct or $160 million to reconstruct it, not including the cost of a new interchange with Interstate 75.
“We’re saying the whole state needs more infrastructure,” Cranley said. “The viaduct just happens to be our local example of a statewide problem.”
Part of the problem is a shift in statehouse leadership, which has become more Republican from rural areas.
"I think a lot of legislators now come from areas that are not metros, and that's a huge change from 10 years ago," Whaley said. "The leadership may not understand the challenges of the metro areas, which are the economic drivers of the state."
The new mayors alliance had a first round of meetings with state lawmakers on Tuesday, when they talked about local issues such as the heroin crisis. The mayors also sent a letter to Congress urging them to fund $103 million for Department of Justice’s Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Grant Program.
“Frankly we believe the cities’ voices haven’t been at the table for years. The General Assembly is dominated by Republicans from rural areas,” Cranley said. “We just haven’t been part of the conversation. So the first thing we have to do is organize and start the conversation. This is a long-term effort but we have to start somewhere.”