FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Oct. 17, 2011
All Aboard Ohio Executive Director
Improved access to jobs for more Ohioans, including the state’s 1 million people living in households without cars, will result from $12.3 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants. Two grants will be for planning potential new rail development projects that could build off of existing passenger rail services in Cleveland and Akron (see: http://fta.dot.gov/grants/13094.html).
“As long as the State of Ohio refuses to consider passenger rail, be it streetcars, high-speed trains or anything in between, it will be up to regional transit agencies and local governments to take the lead,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “Fortunately they are finding a willing partner in the federal government which recognizes private capital follows public investments no matter if it’s in transit, passenger rail, highways or airports.”
FTA grants awarded today include nearly $3.5 million for new natural gas-fueled transit buses to replace older ones in Cincinnati, $368,000 for an improved transit maintenance facility and new bus equipment in Canton, and $1 million for an improved bus transportation asset management system in Columbus.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) won FTA grants to upgrade two transit assets: $3 million to help build a scaled-down version of a more attractive and safer bus transit corridor on Clifton Boulevard in Cleveland and Lakewood; and nearly $3.2 to improve parking areas for buses and cars at transit centers and Rapid rail stations.
But two of the most exciting FTA awards for Ohio will start planning for potential new rail projects in Cleveland and Akron:
1. GCRTA was awarded $1 million for an alternatives analysis of extending a higher level of transit service to the eastern edge of the Authority’s service area, while providing enhanced commuter options to downtown Cleveland/University Circle and promoting redevelopment. The study will examine the potential options for a Red Line rail or HealthLine bus rapid transit extension in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Euclid.
2. Akron Metro RTA was awarded $270,000 for an alternatives analysis of improving public transit service in an under-served area where it is difficult to provide bus service due to uneven terrain and roadway connectivity issues. The study area is along an eight-mile railway corridor used by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) extending from the vicinity of the Valley Business District on Merriman Road southeast through downtown Akron and into the vicinity of the new Goodyear Corporate Campus in South Akron.
If these alternatives analyses show that one or more options could meet federal cost-effectiveness criteria, then local officials could select an option to advance to preliminary engineering. If the FTA finds the project would cause no significant environmental impacts, it could award federal funds to pay up to half of the construction costs. The federal planning process typically takes 10 years for a transportation project to go from idea to ribbon-cutting; more time is needed if many properties have to be acquired or buildings demolished.
That may not be the case with the Akron project, where the railroad corridor is already owned by the public sector – National Park Service northwest of Howard Street and Akron Metro RTA southeastward. Howard Street is also the address of Ohio’s busiest railroad station, used by about 100,000 passengers per year. Much economic development is occurring at the station in downtown Akron’s Northside district including new housing and shops, plus a hotel is planned.
“The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is designed to serve the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, not commuters,” Prendergast said. “But people are filling trains and causing economic development at downtown Akron’s station. So for Akron Metro to also consider a transit use for those rails outside of the park is a logical next step.”
The analysis of extending the Red Line or the HealthLine will generate data and debate. A large number of residents of Northeast Cuyahoga County and Lake County commute into Downtown Cleveland and University Circle – Cuyahoga’s two largest employment districts. University Circle is one of the fastest growing urban employment clusters in the United States today and is not served by any limited access highway. An extended Red Line may offer the fastest commute to University Circle, a traffic-free commute to downtown, and a cross-county, all-weather rail link to Hopkins Airport. However, the HealthLine’s more closely spaced stops would likely give commuters greater access to more of University Circle and to more manufacturing jobs in Euclid.
“The stunning job growth in University Circle is a big reason why ridership on the Red Line is growing at 17 percent and on the HealthLine at 13 percent,” said Prendergast. “The continued growth of University Circle depends on public transit and extending transit’s catchment area. Without quality transit reaching out to where more commuters live, University Circle is at risk of drowning in traffic.”