FTA Has Granted City, RTA 30-Day Extension on $12 Million Public Square Debt

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The Federal Transit Administration told the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in a Jan. 12 letter that FTA will grant the cash-strapped local transit agency a one-time 30-day extension to repay a $12 million debt.

The debt must now be paid in full, or an official appeal filed, by Feb. 21. The debt stems from a breach of a 2004 funding agreement that created a downtown transit zone. Closing Superior Avenue through Public Square violated the terms of the agreement. FTA gave the city and RTA multiple opportunities to open Superior, but Mayor Frank Jackson has refused on safety grounds.

"We don't want RTA to be fined $12 million," Jackson said at a testy press conference earlier this month, "but I don't want 20, 30, 40, 50 people to be run over by a vehicle in Public Square."

The extension was granted after Jackson, Police Chief Calvin Williams and RTA CEO and General Manager Joe Calabrese all sent letters to federal transportation representatives asking for one.

Tuesday morning, at a committee-of-the-whole meeting, the RTA Board of Trustees retired to a private executive session to discuss pending litigation and personnel matters.

The litigation in question likely involves the very same $12 million debt. RTA has said that the city will be responsible for its eventual repayment. (It's the city, after all, that has insisted Superior remain closed.) RTA still hopes to make a case to FTA, based on a traffic study that was scheduled to be completed tomorrow, that the operational impact caused by re-routing buses around the Square can be mitigated elsewhere in the downtown transit zone.

The public portion of Tuesday's board meeting found committee members — all but South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo and the City of Cleveland's Valerie McCall, who were absent — discussing a board retreat. Former East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton, who serves on a retreat subcommittee with Welo and McCall, apprised the rest of the board of the suggested retreat topics — long-term funding, succession planning, fleet replacement — and logistics. An overnight retreat might be preferable, he suggested. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough concurred. Joe Calabrese suggested late March or early April as a reasonable time frame.

Newburgh Heights Mayor and recent board appointee Trevor Elkins argued that, given RTA's dire financial situation, the last thing the board should do was create an impression that it was spending money on a lavish retreat.

"It's always a juggling act, but I hear what you're saying," said Board chair George Dixon III. "You don't want to go to Las Vegas."


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