CINCINNATI — A River Road business owner is in a months-long dispute with the city of Cincinnati over the installation of a traffic signal that he said would improve the safety of customers entering and leaving his establishment.
"Someone is going to get killed here," said Ray Brown, owner of Ray Brown Properties. "It's very dangerous out there."
Brown owns the Shell gas station and Riverside BBQ & Drive Thru at 2790 Riverside Road in Sedamsville. He said it opened in June.
"I was told from the very beginning that I would get a light," said Brown. However, no traffic light has been installed by the city of Cincinnati. Brown said he made a number of improvements in anticipation of the traffic light, including adding a road and turn lanes for access to the establishment. According to Brown, those additional expenditures cost him more than $580,000.
Brown said a number of city staff members told him the traffic light would be installed by the city. Among them, he said, were Mayor John Cranley and Joe Vogel, former director of the city department of transportation and engineering, which was responsible for inspecting the project.
"I've been told and promised by Mayor Cranley probably three or four times," said Brown. He said he saw the mayor a couple months ago at a restaurant while Brown was with his wife and friends.
Brown also said he received a call from Vogel regarding the traffic light and how the city would pay for it. However, Brown said when he met with Sheryl Long, assistant city manager she told him Vogel was no longer working for the city and the project does not warrant a traffic light.
"She said if we could, it would cost you an extra $200,000 for the light and we would manage it, etc.," said Brown. "I said 'no,' turned around and walked out."
Through a public records request, Mayor Cranley's office supplied 9 On Your Side with a number of email communications regarding the traffic light between city staff members and Brown, and between staff members of different city departments. Here are a few of the emails we received.
On May 2, 2019, Jessica Baker, director of constituent affairs for the Office of Mayor John Cranley wrote to Taylor German:
"I know we spoke a few months ago about Mr. Brown, his drive through, and his proposed apartments on River Road. He is circling back to see what the status of City assistance for installing a traffic light is-- has there been any further conversations about this issue since we spoke last? If we wanted to access the TIF dollars, what is the process? Thanks!"
On June 3, 2019, Sheryl Long, assistant city manager wrote to Jessica Baker:
"Did we ever get resolution with Ray Brown..DOTE issue? The traffic light/TIFF issue? I am going to follow-up with Joe Vogel but wasn't sure what the latest conversations have been?"
On June 5, 2019, Joseph Vogel wrote to Brown:
"I am checking on the signal warrants, as you mentioned, for the proposed traffic signal on River Road at the new Shell Station, west of Mt. Echo Road. I will share that info with you as soon as I can get it."
Casey Weldon, city of Cincinnati spokesman, provided the following statement to 9 on Your Side:
“During the permitting phase for 2760/2790 River Road, the City of Cincinnati required the property owner to add a left turn lane to increase safety along River Road because of the expected increase in vehicles turning into the new development. The City later became aware of a request by a resident for a traffic signal at this location. Upon learning of the request, the Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) performed a warrant analysis and determined a traffic signal was not warranted for this area. The new turn lane addresses the City’s concern about the possibility of increased collisions on along River Road and is unrelated to the owner’s request for a light; however, the City understood the concerns of the resident so DOTE developed a possible path forward for the installation of a traffic signal that would be able to be activated on an as-needed basis. The option included using TIF dollars with the provision that the resident received approval from the affected community council(s). The use of the TIF funds would also require approval of City Council. The City remains committed to working with the resident on this issue.
Please note the turn lane requirement and associated expenses is unrelated to the request for a traffic light.
Pedestrian and general public safety remain a top priority of the City Administration. The City of Cincinnati is committed to ensuring safe, accessible roadways for everyone who uses our sidewalks and roadways.”
Brown said he did not have anything in writing to support his claim that the city would install and pay for the traffic light.
"But we have enough people that was told that," he said.
Meanwhile, Brown said he has invested more than $14 million in residential development along River Road. He said he is currently in the beginning stages of an apartment development with more than 80 units.