Initial Planning Starts for Rail Corridor to Chicago, Columbus Not Part of Effort
The plan to build a high-speed rail corridor connecting Columbus and Chicago took a small step forward yesterday, although Columbus’ level of involvement in the project is in question.
A coalition of local jurisdictions, businesses and foundations – all located west of Lima, Ohio, and mostly clustered in the Fort Wayne area – have come up with $350,000 to start the first phase of planning for the project.
That is not enough to study the whole line, explained Ken Pendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio.
“It’s important to note that funding has come only from Lima westward to the Illinois state line,” he said. “If Central Ohio wants to be part of the plan, they need to come up with funding at their end; without it, they could start up service from Lima into Chicago, or even decide to route the line from Lima to Toledo and on to points east, like Cleveland.”
Former Mayor Michael Coleman joined other municipal leaders from cities along the route in signing a Memorandum of Understanding, which spelled out a general level of support for the Columbus to Chicago initiative. There has been no confirmation of that support from his successor, Andrew Ginther.
When asked if the City of Columbus will be involved – either financially or otherwise – in future planning efforts to connect Columbus and Chicago by rail, Robin Davis, Director of Media Relations for the Mayor’s Office, provided this statement:
“Mayor Ginther is committed to the future of mobility through the Smart Columbus initiative. He will be focusing his transportation efforts on smart logistics, expanded mobility options and an environmentally sustainable transportation system.”
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has been working steadily in support of the rail corridor for over three years, seeing it as a key transportation investment given the level of growth predicted for the Columbus region.
MORPC Executive Director William Murdock has reiterated that support in recent months, even as the Smart City grant win seems to have shifted priorities in Columbus away from rail and towards new technologies like driverless cars.
A statement from Murdock released by MORPC in response to the latest news on the Chicago to Columbus line indicates that that support remains, although uncertainty looms over the project given the lack of engagement from the Mayor’s office.
“On behalf of the Columbus to Chicago Passenger Rail project’s Columbus Region partners, we are pleased to express support of our Indiana and City of Lima corridor partners as they advance the Phase 1 EIS for the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Lima portion of the project,” Murdock said. “The Columbus Region’s expected growth… and maintaining our successful economic environment are at the core of our commitment to create a robust multimodal transportation system that features passenger rail service to Chicago and the communities along the way. However, we do not at this time have a timeframe on when we will be able to start a similar effort from Lima to Columbus.”