There is not a freeway more divisive than Cleveland, Ohio’s Innerbelt Freeway. Originally referred to as US 42, it was envisioned in 1940 as a method to divert through traffic from a congested downtown, and to connect the Lake Erie-bordering Shoreway with the proposed Willow Freeway and Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport. Planning for the Innerbelt began in 1944, when a freeway was proposed from the East 30th Street – Shoreway area to Abbey Avenue and West 14th Street on the near west side.
Right-of-way purchases for the 3.24-mile, 110-acre highway cost $22.5 million and consumed 1,250 parcels of land, and it was then estimated that the entire project would total $75 million. Financing was 90% sourced from the federal government, 5% from the city of Cleveland and 5% from the state. The Superior Avenue to Shoreway segment, planned for construction in 1956, was projected to cost $14 million. The East 30th Street to Superior Avenue section, with six underpasses, was set for a 1957 start and cost $12 million. The interchanges was projected to cost $1 million for the right-of-way and $50,000 for engineering.
Construction on the centerpiece, an eight-lane bridge over the Cuyahoga River, located south of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, began on December 12, 1954. Construction on the abutments and approach piers began first, costing an estimated $6 million.20 The 4,233-foot cantilever truss bridge, estimated to cost $9.5 million, along with the $7 million approach superstructure, was opened to traffic on August 18, 1959. The total cost was $26,066,000 and the bridge , consisting of 7,000 individual steel beams, was the widest and biggest in the state.
Below: The Innerbelt Bridge under construction, July 24, 1956. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: The Innerbelt Bridge under construction, July 17, 1957. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: The Innerbelt Bridge under construction, July 16, 1957. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: The Innerbelt Freeway at the future Willow Freeway and the approach to the Innerbelt Bridge, photographed August 3, 1959 by Frank Aleksandrowicz. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: Donated by Sara Ruth Watson to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
The next segment of the Innerbelt to be completed opened on December 17, 1959 that ran from the Shoreway south to Chester Avenue near East 24th Street. The central section, connecting the shoreway to the Innerbelt Bridge and to the Willow Freeway, began in late-1959 and was not opened until December 5, 1961 due to complex land-acquisition issues. It took until August 1 of 1962 to open all 37 highway ramps that led to and from the freeway.
Below: The Chester Avenue interchange, photographed December 16, 1959 by Herman Seid. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: The Innerbelt Freeway in 1960. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
Below: The central section of the freeway at Willow, photographed March 13, 1961. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
The presence of the Innerbelt and the Cuyahoga River crossing was vital to the completion of Interstates 71, 77 and 90. The Willow Freeway was completed in 1966 and was numbered Interstate 77 seven years later.
Below: The Willow Freeway junctioning the Innerbelt Freeway, photographed on October 3, 1963 by Bernie Noble. Donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.
In July 1983, a $6.1 million project to add an 1,500-foot acceleration lane to the West 14th Street ramp was begun by the Horvitz Company of Valley View. Work was scheduled to be completed by June 30, 1985. The company was also the successful bidder to install a new latex concrete deck over the existing concrete pavement by July of 1984 at a cost of $2.4 million.
But years of pounding traffic, deterioration from salt and other de-icing agents and general fatigue took its toll on the Innerbelt Bridge. After a 3-D computerized image was produced of the trusses in November 2008, all commercial truck traffic was prohibited from the crossing. Various chords were discovered to be under extreme stress and could no longer support a full load of traffic. Due to the span’s fracture-critical design, if a chord failed, the entire bridge could collapse – similar to the Interstate 35W bridge failure over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota that occurred just a year prior. The discovery of the weaknesses led the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to scrap a $240 million rehabilitation project, which would have extended the lifespan of the span for another 30 years.
Immediately afterward, ODOT closed the outer lanes to reduce the weight on the chords. A day later, two more lanes were closed to traffic. Two lanes in each direction were closed from September 1 to November 13, 2009 to facilitate $10 million in repairs, and on November 25, ODOT reopened all of the lanes and permitted trucks to use the westbound Innerbelt Bridge. Steel plates were used to reinforced the chords. In addition, the West 14th Street acceleration lane was removed as it added undue weight and stress to the cantilever trusses.
By mid-2010, trucks were allowed to use the eastbound lanes.
The need to replace the Innerbelt Bridge also hemmed not just on safety, but on functionality. The freeway had numerous design deficiencies, including improper reduction in the basic number of traffic lanes, poor ramp configurations and spacing, inadequate curve radii and minimal shoulder width. The bridge also had a very high crash rate. As a result, ODOT announced plans to construct a new westbound Innerbelt Bridge in March 2009, utilizing federal transportation stimulus funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The new westbound bridge would be financed with $85 million federal transportation stimulus funds via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $200 million in federal funds. It is expected to cost $287.4 million. Several alternatives were consisted, narrowed down to Alternative A and B.
Alternative A entailed the construction of new 35 mainline, ramp and overhead bridges, 16 mainline and ramp deck replacements, and provide three through-lanes in each direction within the trench and five lanes in each direction across the bridge. A new bridge north of the existing viaduct would carry westbound traffic, and have a main span length of 800 feet, with 1,028 feet of structure on the west approach and 3,371 feet on the east approach. The eastbound bridge, built in the alignment of the existing viaduct, would have a main span length of 800 feet, with 1,226 feet of structure on the west approach and 3,053 feet on on the east approach.
Alternative B was nearly identical, but on a more southern alignment. It would include a new eastbound bridge with a 900-foot main span length, 1,043 feet of structure on the west approach and 3,061 feet on the east approach. The westbound bridge, which would be built on the alignment of the existing viaduct, would feature a main span of 800 feet, with 1,226 feet of structure on the west approach and 3,053 feet on the east approach.
Both approaches reduced the number of design deficiencies from 131 to just six. Alternative A impacted three historic structures that were determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. With the alternative, all three would be removed. Alternative B would require two historic structures be removed, in addition of two residences – one contributing, the other not, within the Tremont National Register Historic District. It would also affect access and and have proximity impacts to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Chruch.
A Record of Decision was issued in favor of Alternative A on September 18, 2009 for the replacement of the Innerbelt Bridge as part of the Innerbelt Freeway reconstruction in Cleveland. The new bridge consisted of a steel delta frame design, with a number of long spans and very tall piers. Initial plans called for an opening of the eastbound span in 2017, although this was revised to 2023-2026 in an early 2012 project funding list from ODOT. A revision later in the year set the opening between 2016 and 2019.
Below: A rendering of the new Innerbelt Bridges by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
In September 2010, the project was awarded to Walsh Construction and designer HNTB Ohio Inc. for $287.4 million. The project is being performed using the design-build process, where the design and construction are combined in a single contract, shaving off nearly a year in the design and construction timeline. Construction of a westbound span began on March 30, 2011, with a ceremonial groundbreaking on May 2. The future westbound bridge was named after George V. Voinovich on September 15, and is projected to be complete on October 28, 2013.
Below: Photographs of the construction process over the summer of 2012.