Interstate 90 wasn’t always a fixture in Westlake

As seen from Wolf Road in Bay Village looking to the south, this is the earthen incline for the Clague Road grade separation over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. First proposed by Northwest Freeway planners in 1965, this grade separation was a source of controversy in the city of Bay Village from the beginning. Roadway designers insisted the grade separation was needed to prevent train traffic from potentially backing up auto traffic onto the Clague Road Interstate 90 exit ramp.

Should a resident of Bay Village or Westlake desire driving directions to Boston, Massachusetts, they would be quite straightforward: Simply enter Interstate 90 eastbound from the nearest access point in Westlake and follow that route all the way to the historic New England metropolis.

What if the above-mentioned resident wished to motor their way to Seattle, Washington, instead? The directions would be similarly direct (although encompassing much more mileage): Again enter I-90 from one of the two Westlake interchanges that permit westbound access to the highway and keep heading west until reaching the Pacific Northwest hub of technology.

Interstate 90, sometimes piggybacking along with other interstate routes, runs roughly 3,120 miles, completely traversing the northern United States with its western terminus being in Seattle and eastern terminus finding itself in Boston.

In our little corner of the country, I-90 and a roadway known as the “Northwest Freeway” are one and the same, having become an established fixture in Westlake. While it may seem to be so, the highway, however it is known, has not always been part of the local landscape. (Personally, I witnessed much of the highway being built in Westlake and now view it as something that has always "just been there.")

The Northwest Freeway was first proposed by area planners in 1952, along with a number of other limited-access throughways intended to criss-cross Cuyahoga County. These throughways were given descriptive names with their route designations to be determined at a later date. Not all of those originally planned throughways would go on to be built.

As its name implies, the Northwest Freeway was planned to provide speedy access to locations in the northwestern part of Cuyahoga County. As the national interstate highway system grew in the 1950s and '60s the scope of the Northwest Freeway evolved to that of a connecting artery linking the Ohio Turnpike west of Elyria in Lorain County to what would become the Interstate 71 Inner Belt interchange near downtown Cleveland.

While seemingly having no specific route assignment in mind for it while initially planned, it appears by 1961 the Northwest Freeway was to be incorporated as part of Interstate 90.

Construction of the Northwest Freeway was intended to begin in the mid-1960s and be completed by 1970. In Cuyahoga County numerous delays, for a variety of reasons, made that target an impossibility. Because the highway’s planned route through Westlake ran through mostly unimproved land, city leaders welcomed its construction and the improved access to potential industrial and commercial development it would bring.

In the communities east of Westlake the situation was completely opposite, with the highway’s route cutting through established residential neighborhoods, causing much disruption and the need to demolish a substantial number of homes and businesses. In those communities the planned highway was largely unwelcome by officials and residents, and many obstacles to its construction arose.

In Lorain County, once it started in the late 1960s, construction of the Northwest Freeway went relatively quickly and smoothly. The roadway ran east to the Cuyahoga County line where the pavement came to an abrupt end. On Oct. 1, 1970, the first section of the Northwest Freeway to be built in Westlake was started.

That section picked up where the roadway ended at the Lorain County line and included the creation of Crocker Road and the Crocker Road interchange. Crocker Road started where Bassett Road turns to the southeast, just south of the Norfolk Southern tracks, and at the time extended only to Detroit Road. In December 1971 Westlake’s first section of the Northwest Freeway opened to traffic up to the Crocker Road interchange, while remaining unopened pavement to the east ended in a field east of the old Bassett Road.

Unfinished sections of the Northwest Freeway would subsequently be built in intermittent stages, not only in Westlake but further to the east, and not until late 1978 would the roadway be fully opened.

As earlier predicted by its city leaders, construction of the Northwest Freeway through Westlake provided a catalyst for tremendous growth in the municipality. Vacant farmland abutting the throughway became quite attractive to various sized corporations, including Fortune 500 companies.

The commercial and industrial development spurred by the Northwest Freeway’s presence in Westlake brought jobs and additional residents to the city. From its first settler in 1811 it took up to the U.S. Census of 1970 for Westlake to claim more than 15,000 residents in the city. By the U.S. Census of 1990, 20 years later, Westlake added 12,000 more residents, nearly doubling its population to 27,000, thanks in large part to the Northwest Freeway’s construction early-on in that period.

There seems to be no question that the planners’ decision in 1952 to have the Northwest Freeway run through Westlake has had a positive effect on the city, on balance.

Dan Hirschfeld

I'm a longtime resident of the Bay Village and Westlake area (Bay 1965 to 1977, then Westlake since) who has always enjoyed living here while seeing lots of change over the years.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 9:59 AM, 01.05.2016