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COTA Looking for Help in Picking Best Corridors for Light Rail or Streetcars

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Looking for Help in Picking Best Corridors for Light Rail or StreetcarsConceptual composite image by Walker Evans.
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There is no shortage of opinions in Columbus about whether rail should be a part of our future transit network, and the Central Ohio Transit Authority, with it’s ongoing NextGen process, is very methodically working toward an official recommendation on that front. However, before any decisions are made about what type of “premium transit” is best for Columbus — light rail, streetcar, bus rapid transit, or something else — COTA wants to be sure that there is agreement about where it should go.

To that end, phase two of NextGen is underway, with a series of pubic meetings and a survey on COTA’s website asking for opinions about future investment — and for help in narrowing down a list of 26 potential “high capacity transit corridors.”

Consultant Thomas Wittmann, Principal at Nelson Nygaard, explained the concept at a recent public meeting. “High capacity transit moves people more efficiently and cost-effectively than by bus,” he said, adding that such systems, “work best when they complement the underlying system, and when that system is strong.”

As part of building that core system, the vision outlined by Wittmann calls for improvements to the existing bus network. Those improvements would be achieved both by continuing to add high-frequency lines in the central city — a process already started with COTA’s Transit System Redesign — and by adding suburban circulator networks in places like Dublin, Grove City and Westerville.

As for where rail might fit into the system, options presented by COTA include two existing rail corridors; the former freight corridor that runs from Westerville to the Arena District, and the rail line that runs from downtown to Port Columbus and on to Newark — a corridor identified by the JET task force as a potential rail link for the airport.

Lisa Myers of COTA said that the Westerville route was included because it is “the only railway corridor in the region that is not currently in use by a major freight network… there is also significant projected population and job growth along that corridor.”

Other potential high capacity corridors include High Street from Downtown to Polaris, Broad Street from Lincoln Village to Whitehall, and a southern route touching on Parsons Avenue and Groveport Road and ending at Rickenbacker Airport. Also included are some less-obvious alternatives such as a route connecting Easton and Upper Arlington and east-west routes along SR 161 and Morse Road.

Myers said that COTA plans to use the input received in this round of outreach to narrow the list of potential corridors. By the time NextGen wraps up in the spring of next year, a report based on the public’s feedback — as well as experts’ input — will recommend the “top corridors ripe for investment and the potential modes suitable for each corridor.”

Wittman stressed that a key part of the report will be a list of “innovative funding solutions” that could help to pay for the recommendations.

NextGen is happening at the same time as a pair of other public processes looking to plan for the future of transit in the region; the city’s Connect Columbus and MORPC’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Connect Columbus recently made waves by looking into the possibility of a light rail line running underneath High Street.

For more information on NextGen, and to take the survey, visit www.cota.com/nextgen

For ongoing discussion on transportation in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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  • Zyro

    I want to be excited, but I have to keep my expectations in check. Some thoughts off the top of my head…..

    I think quality BRT (bus rapid transit)is a good fit for Columbus. All of our roads are oversized and can easily accommodate this. The CMAX is BRT-light, but I hope it’s the first of a few potential BRT lines, if those next lines mimic what Cleveland has done with its Euclid Ave BRT. Maybe even more: separate the BRT from the cars with actual walls/curbs on the street.

    Rail would be best to serve the outlying suburbs and airport(s), I think, however….

    A an expanded streetcar route based on the successful route of the CBUS Circulator could potentially work.

    Also, it would be way more helpful if the state government supported this kind of stuff : ( . Poor Columbus is left to its own devices.

    And finally, I hope the next mayor supports this kind of development……I worry Zach Scott would reject projects like that. I believe Andrew Ginther would support it, but I am not 100% sure. Has either candidate been questioned on this topic?

    • Maximusf

      I agree with you 100%!! I’d also add, Columbus need to strongly restructure its lines going East/West, as the current routes are insufficient, and lacking on certain days of the week.

  • spfld_expat

    Every time I see a COTA article, I type “ctrl+f consultant”. Its always in there.

    If these consultants are so great, maybe they should be running COTA instead of ex-lawyer retread Curtis Stitt?

    • Consultants are hired for planning initiatives, not for day-to-day operations. Two very different areas of expertise, IMHO.

      • spfld_expat

        COTA’s day to day operations need a lot of help, tho.

        It’s very hard not to be cynical about this article. This is the same old song and dance we’ve been hearing from COTA for years. Blowing money on consultants for a pie in the sky wishlist while basic service sucks.

        • Could existing basic service stand to be improved? Of course.

          As someone who rides the bus pretty regularly, I’d say that service has improved pretty dramatically over the past 5-8 years though. Lots of hours expansions, new routes and more frequent service. Those are the big three when it comes to providing the basics, and it’s all gotten much better.

          Of course, the additions of real time tracking and smart card payment processing would be nice to eventually get around to.

  • Here’s my question: So the official recommendations arrive next spring… then what? Will there actually be any real push by COTA or MORPC to get the ball rolling right away, or is this more an exercise in “what could be” 20 years from now? If the former, fantastic. If the latter, it’s just going to feel like another slap in the face where we keep getting teased and then let down.

    The same kind of study was done in the early 1990s that identified plenty of routes. From what I recall, most of them would still work.

    • Zyro

      This so much. It’ll be very disappointing when nothing happens.

      Sadly, this is the expectation I have….and it sucks. I wish I could be excited and energized, but I’m let down time and time again and I don’t want to work myself up just to be disappointed yet again.

      Someone should tell me why I should have a different outlook now…

  • mal7798

    More suburb-to-suburb transit is needed, instead of centralizing the service around downtown Columbus. It’s actually quicker to WALK from where I work in Worthington to Westerville (assuming I wanted to go there) than to take COTA, as it would require going into and then out from downtown Columbus.

    A return of service on Dublin-Granville Road (161) is imperative, and it should go to DUBLIN (see name of road) to, well not Granville of course, but at least to Westerville. Make this like the 95 route, except on 161. Also, add similar service to major roads not well served now.

    A 270 orbit loop should be added, that gets off at each suburb with limited stops, so that people won’t have to connect through downtown Columbus (see pattern?).

    They need to stop limiting weekend hours so much! Not everyone lives and works a 9-to-5 Monday-to-Friday schedule. This early ending of service on Sunday feels like social engineering, and I find it offensive.

  • ehill27

    ^ Some of these things are actally being implemented over the next year as part of the Transit System Redesign.

  • jdruhot

    Which line is this unused freight corridor between the Arena District and Westerville?

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