Regional cooperation may give rise to better Belmont

Constructive change should be putting smiles on the faces of motorists along major arteries through the North Side of Youngstown and into adjoining Liberty Township.

About one year ago, a $4.5 million improvement project was completed on a large stretch of Wick Avenue that included repaving, burying utility wires, widening sidewalks, installing new lighting, replacing waterlines and reducing the three-lane road to two lanes.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $10.9 million, to be matched with a similar handsome sum of local dollars and services, for a much larger road and infrastructure project for the central business district. One major focus of that project will be a complete makeover of Fifth Avenue somewhat similar to that of the Wick Avenue renaissance.

Now, we’re pleased to hear of plans among a group of partners from Youngstown and Liberty to build significantly upon that ongoing momentum. Township and city leaders have joined forces to take the first steps toward major infrastructure improvements to Belmont Avenue, another major North Side thoroughfare that also serves as the heart of Liberty’s business and commercial corridor.

Together they plan to submit a joint letter of intent to Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the Mahoning Valley’s lead transportation planning agency, for a study of potential improvements along a 5-mile stretch of Belmont. The area targets the start of Belmont at West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown to the Churchill Commons Giant Eagle supermarket in the township.

We applaud the foresighted regional approach between the city and the township as the project promises mutual benefits for each community.

For Youngstown, revitalizing the much-traveled roadway will better promote the key assets on its path that include the Youngstown State University and the Mercy Health Youngstown campuses.

Main drag

For Liberty, additional improvements to the main drag of the township will build upon upgrades already made that have enhanced the aesthetics of the corridor and attracted new businesses and industry.

Just last summer, the Ohio Department of Transportation completed work on a $4 million project that targeted Belmont Avenue, also known as state Route 193, that included road resurfacing, sewer improvements and new curbing.

Those and other improvements resulted in large part from the steadfast determination of veteran township Trustee Jodi Stoyak. Ever since taking office over a decade ago, she has kept her eyes squarely on the road that defines her community. From volunteering to plant flowers along the roadway to coordinating cleanup improvement projects among Belmont merchants to working closely with ODOT and the Eastgate Council, Stoyak’s commitment to Belmont and to its import to the township has been unwavering.

The results have been self-evident to even the most casual observer. It was not so long ago that Belmont Avenue was a veritable eyesore. It had no sidewalks, many buildings were shuttered or in deplorable condition, and the road was aesthetically unappealing.

Today, the avenue in Liberty is more inviting than it has been in a long time, but there clearly remains room for more improvements to stimulate even more business and commercial activity. In Youngstown, development of student housing that stretches to Belmont Avenue and neighborhood improvements including demolition of the blighted Bel-Park office high-rise are paving the way for revitalization.

Clearly the time is right for concerted action, and the regional partnership between Liberty and Youngstown makes sound procedural sense. As T. Sharon Woodberry, community planning director of Youngstown, put it, the boundaries between the communities should be viewed as imaginary as Belmont figures prominently in both communities’ future fortunes.

“ In order for Belmont to be a corridor that is useful and visibly attractive and a gateway to this area, we can’t operate on boundaries,” she said.

Clearly, much potential good rides on the pursuit and follow-through on the city-township proposal.

As a complement to ongoing road and infrastructure improvements in its shadows, as a vehicle for heightened economic development and as a tangible enhancement to community pride, the pursuit of this timely and appropriate study merits approval and execution by the Regional Council of Governments.

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