Eastgate, port authority, YSU, others consider federal transportation grant

YOUNGSTOWN — Trying to capitalize on some of the energy next-gen technology is creating in Lordstown and build on the momentum of improvements planned for Youngstown’s central business district, local development officials plan to ask for federal help to transform part of state Route 45 into a smart corridor.

The plan, still in the developmental stage, includes lining the route from Lordstown to downtown Warren with high-speed internet fiber, adding intermodal capability and developing autonomous vehicles, including freight. Bailey Road in Lordstown could also be connected to the high-speed fiber.

“We’re trying to see if we have a project that would qualify for the ask,” said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. “We’re in the very early stages of planning what we would ask for.”

The request would be in the realm of $18 million to $20 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD — Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Developments — program. Also in development now is aligning the resources to come up with a 50 percent match.

The application is due by May 18, Kinnick said.

Lessons learned by Eastgate in its effort to secure $10.8 million from the same program to improve downtown Youngstown, Kinnick said, could bolster the latest application. Eastgate had applied twice before getting the grant funding in December 2018.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Kinnick said. “We’re not afraid to swing and miss.”

The $10.8 million for the Youngstown project will help support self-driving shuttles and also incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities, green infrastructure, streetscaping and wayfinding to connect major destinations in the downtown area, including Youngstown State University, the Youngstown Business Incubator, Mercy Health, Eastern Gateway Community College and the Western Reserve Transit Authority’s station on West Federal Street.

Partnering with Eastgate on the latest application would be the Western Reserve Port Authority, Youngtown Warren Regional Chamber, Lordstown village, the Ohio Turnpike, YSU and DriveOhio, which is part of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Smart Mobility Center.

Some elements of the plan are a staging area for trucking companies and enhancing the region’s distribution centers by installing intermodal facility plus maybe even automated freight lines from the intermodal center to the distribution centers.

“We’re really trying to see what sticks and what could be the best driver for that region in our community,” Kinnick said.

Recent developments with Lordstown Motors Corp., General Motors’ building a multibillion dollar electric vehicle battery-cell plant in Lordstown and the work being done at BRITE Energy Innovators in Warren make the timing right to ask.

“We realize there is a lot of attention, a lot of good things going on in the area,” Kinnick said. “We want to continue to build on that.”