Infrastructure repair tab growing: Cleveland

S-Curve Red Line construction-050513-Prendergast2m

Major infrastructure improvements like the 2013 reconstruction of the Red Line S-curve on Cleveland’s west side are needed system-wide. As funding for infrastructure dries up, infrastructure needs are on the rise. All Aboard Ohio says about $2.5 billion worth of rail investment is needed in Greater Cleveland in the coming decade to rebuild the rail system and expand it to respond to changing commuting patterns.

The inability of the State of Ohio and the federal government to address our infrastructure needs continues to rear its ugly head in an increasing number of case examples. Here’s the latest….

Cleveland needs $150 million to bring its rail Rapid transit system’s tracks up to a state of good repair. This was noted in a recent article that trains of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) must travel at reduced speed over one out of every 10 miles on Cleveland’s rail system.  Cleveland’s 63 miles of track on three rail lines (Blue, Green and Red Lines) carry 20% of GCRTA’s ridership; the other 62 GCRTA transit routes (bus) carry the remainder. Despite the track improvement backlog, Cleveland’s rail system is still more cost-effective (measured using industry metrics like cost per passenger-mile and cost per unlinked passenger trip) than regular route buses.

But that backlog is just the tip of the fiscal iceberg. The $150 million figure doesn’t include about $250 million needed ASAP for new trains or roughly $80 million for modernizing the trains’ electrical power system with low-maintenance, constant-tension catenary wires. GCRTA’s aging trains and outdated, overhead catenary wires have affected GCRTA’s service reliability, especially last winter. But the reliability problems have occurred this summer as well, as GCRTA struggles to find replacement parts to keep old air conditioning systems operational. Some Red Line trains have operated with only one car, causing overcrowding.

A transportation network comprised of rails, roads and aviation systems requires constant maintenance and occasional replacement. In 2013, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority had to replace a poorly draining floor of their Red Line airport tunnel, which emerges next to the Berea Freeway.

A transportation network comprised of rails, roads and aviation systems requires constant maintenance and occasional replacement. In 2013, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority had to replace the poorly draining floor of their Red Line airport tunnel, which emerges next to the Berea Freeway.

Cleveland was one of the nation’s few cities with rail until the 1980s. Its Shaker light-rail (Blue & Green) lines were constructed between 1913 and 1936, although the short Waterfront Line was added in 1996. The crosstown heavy-rail Red Line was built between 1928 and 1968. Cleveland and a handful of other legacy rail cities enjoyed exclusive access to federal “rail modernization” grants to keep their systems in a state of good repair.

Since the 1980s, many US cities have built rail systems and those systems are now aging, too. Cleveland must compete with more cities for fewer federal rail modernization grants. And, of course, Ohio provides near-zero transit funding. This must change! We cannot maintain a first-world transportation system on a third-world transportation budget with many costly regulations.

SAVE THE DATE: Join All Aboard Ohio from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 15 (the only weekend this summer when construction of rail bridges and/or tracks isn’t scheduled!) for a guided tour of the good, the bad and the ugly in Cleveland’s rail system including most routes, its new/rebuilt stations, maintenance facilities, plus station-area developments. We thank GCRTA for sponsoring this fun, informative event!

In case you’re wondering, GCRTA can’t easily abandon any of its rail lines. To do so would require refunding tens if not hundreds of millions of federal rail grants from the last 10-20 years for major station, track, bridge and substation projects. GCRTA must also hold public meetings for any proposal to terminate or substantially alter rail service. There was a loud neighborhood outcry recently when GCRTA considered closing the little-used East 34th and East 79th Red Line stations. Imagine the response to GCRTA attempting to abandon an entire rail line.

In All Aboard Ohio’s opinion, improving the efficiency and utility of Cleveland’s rail system is paramount. It should involve:

  • modernization of existing rail infrastructure, power delivery systems and rolling stock costing about $500 million;
  • supporting the growing interest in job-producing transit-oriented development with focused development incentives (tax credits, small-business loans, etc) as well as cleaning and clearing under-utilized and polluted industrial sites within walking distance of transit stations; and
  • expanding the reach of rail lines with short extensions of rail or dedicated buses, costing up to $2 billion, to serve 21st-century commuting patterns and growing employment centers.

Considering the lack of political resolve for transit at the state level and an ongoing political stalemate at the federal level, Cuyahoga County may have to take care of its own infrastructure needs by adding new local funding sources. What is clear is that the status quo is failing us.


1 Comment to "Infrastructure repair tab growing: Cleveland"

  1. June 30, 2015 - 11:47 AM | Permalink

    Cuyahoga County will definitely have to take care of its own infrastructure needs, here, so long as voters continue to deliver state government to the Ohio GOP. “Lack of political resolve for transit” is possibly the understatement of the year.

    That said, the blame is shared locally. Cuyahoga County absolutely could afford to maintain existing infrastructure… if it didn’t constantly direct every spare dollar and then some to brainless projects like the Opportunity Corridor, corporate welfare for sports arenas, and other sets for the Potemkin Village known as downtown. This is plainly and simply why we can’t have nice things anywhere else in the county.

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