The INNERBELT FREEWAY, conceived in 1940 to divert Cleveland traffic around the downtown area, was designed to connect the lakefront Shoreway with the WILLOW FREEWAY and link up with a new Medina Freeway leading to CLEVELAND-HOPKINS INTL. AIRPORT. Innerbelt planning, begun in 1944, called for a basic route running from the E. 30th St.-Shoreway area to Abbey Ave. and W. 14th St. on the near west side. A planning office was established in 1948, and first approval of the specific routing was granted in 1949. The right-of-way for the 3.24-mile innerbelt required the purchase of 1,250 parcels of land, eventually totaling $22.5 million. It was estimated that land and construction together would cost taxpayers $75 million. Federal funds covered 90% of the construction, with 5% shares from the city and the state.
The first work on the project, begun 12 Dec. 1954, centered on a new 8-lane bridge across the CUYAHOGA RIVER, located just south of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. The 4,233' span, costing $26,066,000, was the widest bridge built in the state and was opened to traffic on 18 Aug. 1959. The second segment, opened on 17 Dec. 1959, ran from the Shoreway south to Chester Ave. near E. 24th St. The central portion connecting the shoreway to the west side was slowed by complex land-acquisition problems and did not open until 5 December 1961. More months were needed to open the 37 ramps that fed traffic to and from the freeway. The last of them opened on 1 Aug. 1962. It was soon discovered that the curve bringing traffic to and from the Shoreway was a major accident area. Although the curve was rebuilt to change the degree of its bank in 1969, signs, flashing lights, and rumble strips were needed to alert those drivers who failed to take its 35 mph limit seriously. The Innerbelt Freeway removed some 50,000 vehicles from the downtown streets, and in time it became the vital connection with the area's 3 interstate highways, I-77, I-71, and I-90.