“Here we are getting ready for a ribbon-cutting, and I filed for Medicare Part B last week,” Smith said Tuesday.
The long-awaited opening of the interchange is set for Dec. 20.
Smith, who turns 65 in February and was elected mayor in 1995, regards the $26 million interchange as one of his biggest accomplishments. He is not seeking re-election when his term ends in 2013.
The project is ending nine months ahead of schedule, in large part because of great summer weather and a construction plan that saw potential traffic headaches eased with the opening of Avon Road into Westlake and construction of a temporary road north of the interchange that helped get hundreds of patients to and from the new $93 million Richard Jacobs Cleveland Clinic Avon Family Health and Surgery Center on a daily basis.
“We did a few things differently and that made everything go quicker,” Smith said.
The interchange also had to weather hurdles that included resistance from local property owners fearful they would be assessed a third of the costs of the project.
That opposition led to a subsequent plan to finance the interchange through a joint venture that would see the city sell more than $20 million in municipal bonds, while a third of the expected $18 million construction costs would be paid by the Richard E. Jacobs Group, which was key in developing the huge Cleveland Clinic medical center on Chester Road.
Many of the thousands of patients visiting the Chester Road center will make use of the new interchange.
The mayor said the opposition actually helped in the long run because it stalled the project long enough that municipal bond interest rates fell to historically low numbers — around 3.27 percent.
“The rates are as cheap as they’ve ever been,” Smith said. “That’s a significant savings to us, considering rates were 5 to 5.25 percent. Construction costs may be up a bit, but we’ll save more in such low interest rates.”
Smith declined to mention any potential future business or industrial development in the area near the interchange, but he noted he should be able “to make some very nice announcements for the community and the area in the coming year.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.