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Underground Light Rail Idea Presented as Connect Columbus Initiative Continues

 Brent Warren Underground Light Rail Idea Presented as Connect Columbus Initiative ContinuesPhoto by Derek Jensen.
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The city’s Connect Columbus initiative continues this week with a third round of workshops designed to generate discussion about driving, walking, biking and riding in Columbus. As they’ve done in the first two week-long sessions, the city and its team of consultants will provide maps, case studies from other cities, and lots of data about all forms of transportation in the city.

The first two workshops also contained their share of new ideas and concepts, such as suggestions for adding bike lanes to certain streets or redesigning intersections to reduce traffic congestion. One idea, though, presented at the closing presentation of last month’s Clintonville session, stands out for its boldness; a light rail line from campus to downtown running underneath High Street for a portion of its length.

Paul Moore, of project consultant Nelson Nygaard, explained that there are a couple of reasons to consider such a plan, particularly in the Short North:

High Street is the corridor in Columbus that already has the fundamentals in place to make transit work. It is also arguably the best walking street, the best street for businesses (with on-street parking), an important driving street and a desirable biking street… and there is not enough space to accommodate all of the needs of each of these elements. Accommodating great transit in a way that allows those other elements to thrive has great value. It remains to be seen whether the citizens feel that value is worth the high cost, but we believe the question deserves a dialogue before it is dismissed.

A rough cost estimate and alignment was provided as part of the presentation. Three miles of light rail from Broad Street to 17th Avenue – with a two-mile section running underground roughly from Goodale Street to 17th – could cost in the neighborhood of $1.1 billion.

Moore explained that they used costs from the Crenshaw Metro Line in Los Angeles (which is currently under construction) as a guide. That project will have two separate underground portions and will use a technique called “cut and cover” to build them – instead of drilling a tunnel underneath a street, an open trench is dug, with tracks and infrastructure being built a half-block at a time before being covered up again.

“The cost of this type of construction tends to be lower than tunneling, but there is more disruption along the street while the trench is open,” he said.  “It’s a tradeoff. We have by no means concluded whether such a project or such a tradeoff is right for Columbus or for High Street.”

To weigh in on the idea, visit www.columbus.gov/connectcolumbus or attend one of the design workshops scheduled for every day this week at the Franklin County Board of Elections, 1700 Morse Road.

COTA’s NextGen initiative is also soliciting ideas on the future of transit in Columbus. More details at www.cota.com/nextgen.

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  • heresthecasey

    Definitely worth it, though I’d want the tunnel portion to run further north to around Arcadia/Dodridge.

  • Jeffersin

    Sure, just tack on another $250 million and you can get that extra mile and a half.

  • superglue

    That dang on Short North and sacred high street. There is a huge city that needs to be connecteda. Everytime we talk rail we talk about high street and the Short North. F The Short North. Can we connect some of these commercial and job districts so people can get to jobs? I know we have to start somewhere, but jeez everyone in Columbus arent OSU transplants living in Grandview and Clintonville.

    All I ever hear is High St, High St High St. What about Broad St? What about Livingston? The Airport? Easton? Polaris?

    It won’t happen over night, I know. But the rest of the city is never mentioned in these plans.

    • ddcarothers

      I understand where you are coming from, but the issue is that, if we want rail transit, then we need to start somewhere. Connecting three large assets (Downtown, SN, and OSU) that are close to each other would be a huge step forward for this change in Columbus. We have the capacity throughout the whole stretch of High Street to support light rail, so I think this is the right place to go, no matter how I feel about the Short North.

      If successful, we will hopefully get enough buy in to create a system that connects all of Columbus. But, you are right, that is not going to happen over night.

    • GigglesSupreme

      I think each possible rout has its own merits on why it should be first. We can collect a lot of different demographic information from each one. The airport to downtown would certainly solve a problem and funnel visitors into downtown. Connecting Easton would be good for, well, Easton. Same with Polaris. High Street seems to have the best mix of all the ingredients. People will be using it for work, for school, for entertainment, nightlife, etc. I agree High Street gets too much attention, but if we’re going to spend billions of dollars on something, we should understand why and how people use it.

      • superglue

        True but coming from someone who was born and raised here I know how vital rail connecting other areas is. I know we have to start somewhere but the rest of the city is never mentioned in these plans. It’s disheartening as everyone in the city doesnt frequent High Street and the Short North, Campus area. There is a whole middle class, blue collar, working class contingent out here that could use connections close or near a lot of these random office parks and industrial enclaves for work. Also, nothing wrong with keeping the city connected and making service a bit later.

        You have 161, New Albany,Gahanna, Airport, Steltzer,Easton,Polaris, Broad Street all the way out to Pataskala, Far South Side,Rickenbacker ETC
        The East side (Canal Winchester,Groveport, Hamilton,Refugee Road, Pickerington,Reynoldsburg) could REALLY use some connecting forms of transit. Have you ever experienced morning rush hour coming from Canal? ITS INTERESTING

        Sure there are busses but the express bus schedules are just off. If we had some connectors (rail) with frequent and later service Columbus will finally be moving like the metropolis we want it to be.

        • superglue

          There are also a whole lot of people who travel in from Lacaster and Madison counties. If we had some rail service (Something on the lines of Metra in Chicago or the PATH in New Jersey) we would see the benifits quickly. Even connections going to and from the Delaware area. I wish I had a Trillion dollars man. I know it would work. Im from these parts

    • Columbusrules


      W. Broad Street would be great to connect the Hilltop and downtown. Many people are wanting jobs, but can’t get to them from the West Side.

      • Broad Street is broad (no pun intended). I would think it would be easy enough (and much cheaper) to keep it above ground for an East/West corridor on Broad.

        • Rahburts

          Along those same lines, you could say that Broad street is ideal for cut and cover because they could shift traffic patterns for minimal disruption during construction.

    • Analogue Kid

      Broad street is already well served by the #10 bus for anyone looking to get to a job. Backups are rare for the entire length of the road. The reason for underground rail transit through the Short North/Downtown is that High Street is very dense and congested. For people to get around effectively, they need to have a mode of transportation that isn’t going to get held up in the ever increasing traffic congestion. That’s where this plan makes sense.

      • superglue

        But High Street really isnt THAT congested. How often would this service run because for that short of a distance it would end up having super fast frequency. Its not like the stops are going to be at every light.

        Subways and Light Rail, Historically are usually designed to take people long distances with busses finishing the connection. If your going to plan for high street you might as wel cut and cover North AND South High Street going out to Scioto Downs maybe. If not your gonna have this massive underground project with like 4 or 5 stops.

  • Zyro

    Underground is so silly. It sounds like an incredibly waste of money, and the fact that it’s being seriously considered makes me lose a little bit of faith in this initiative.

    Columbus has INCREDIBLY wide streets. All of them are oversized and dedicated primarily to cars. Above ground, in my opinion, is the only acceptable answer. Underground would be unnecessarily when above ground can do the job, and contribute to more proper complete streets. Columbus and its obsession with creating the ultimate convenience is, at most times, infuriating. We wouldn’t want to take away that driving space, now would we?

    • Zyro

      I meant to say “unneccessarily expensive” and “creating the ultimate convenience for driving”.

      Sorry, those were typos. I typed too fast, lol.

    • Zyro

      And now–re-reading the article–I think I may have misunderstood some things. I guess all I’m trying to say is that if it’s not necessary to go underground, we should have to. That’s all. Sorry for my knee-jerk reaction. I want good transit in Columbus at a good price so that it can actually be done. If a proposal has an astronomical cost attached to it, I fear the initiative will fail.

      • Zyro

        Ugh….”SHOULDN’T HAVE TO”. Sorry…

    • GigglesSupreme

      I agree. It’s too expensive to warrant building an underground unless absolutely necessary. High Street is a disaster as-is. We need to thin it out and more importantly add SAFE ways for modes of transportation other than cars.

  • Crud, how am I missing this!?

  • MichaelC

    Frankly, a rail line that alternates above and below ground makes the most “practical” sense in that High St., through Downtown and the SN, is not wide enough to accommodate a train.

    Elsewhere, above ground makes sense.

    A successful rail line, right out of the gate, benefits from density along the route, and will encourage density and development once it is laid out.

    A line that just connects Downtown and OSU doesn’t make a ton of sense, IMO–how manyu people are navigating that route, alone, every day?

    A line that connects Downtown to a population center, with important stops along the way, makes sense as an “inaugural” route, IMO, despite the obvious higher cost upfront given the extended line.

  • bjones7

    Is it me or have we had this same song and dance before with light rail? Not underground rail, but the obsession with Light Rail and not other transit models 1st like Regional Rail or Commuter Rail. Have they dropped the downtown the Airport rail proposal all together? I realize this is just a article and nothing is set. We should have city wide support if any of this is going to happen. We will have Weed dispensaries before we have train transit at this pace(what, around 2050…).

  • Pablo

    Toronto is currently building something similar, the light rail goes underground a portion of the route:


  • chaserdanger

    I think a line from Downtown to Worthington or Clintonville is more practical as it can get more “commuters” I can’t imagine that many OSU students are going downtown unless for internships, state office work, or other reasons but when I took the #8 from Campus to German Village, college students didn’t make it to Broad St with me.

    I think certain population centers where people reside are better ways to get use of light rail.

    Is a Vic Village person going to walk to take a subway line on High St?
    Grandview and areas around 5th Avenue and King Avenue seem the best area to get people to downtown. Usually first time renters or first time in the city dwellers and when I lived there we all worked in or near downtown.

  • Nancy H

    Underground trains are more expensive, but they can run faster and keep a fairly precise schedule. No stopping for apposing traffic, yielding the right-of-way to emergency vehicles, or getting stopped completely by traffic accidents, etc.

    We also get a chance to do some other things when we dig the big trench. Things like bury overhead utility lines. And, something most of the older parts of Columbus really needs – a chance to upgrade our ancient sewer and storm water systems.

  • Nancy H

    “Why do we build subways? They’re expensive. They cost several times as much, mile for mile, as elevated railroads, and their construction entails more inconvenience to the public and to business, and for a longer time. They interfere with and endanger the sewers, gas pipes, water mains, electric conduits, and other subsurface structures, for an extended period, and then, when finally completed, many people dislike to ride in them.

    Yet we build subways, because, when finished, unlike elevated railroads, so far as street conditions are concerned, they are noiseless, invisible and do not obstruct light, air or traffic. Train operation is never interfered with by weather conditions, and real estate along the route is enhanced in value. The permanent advantages of underground railroads far outweigh the temporary inconveniences during the construction period.”

    Sound familiar? Written by design engineer Julius Glaser in 1918.

    Full text here – http://www.nycsubway.org/wiki/The_Design_of_Subways_(1918)

  • ehill27

    To the points on the airport, COTA is planning to implement a Airport to Downtown route –named the 400x– as part of their full “transit system redesign”:

    FULL implementation of the redesign isn’t scheduled to be completed until May 2017, but they plan to begin implementing changes at least a year prior to that, so hopefully the airport line will be among the early additions.

  • I’m personally all for underground but would prefer the line to at least go up High or veer over to the 315 area to connect to the Henderson, Bethel and 161 areas. I think a lot of downtown commuters come from those areas. Also, would some type of monorail system along High work to both save space and not have to dig underground?
    But, from what I’ve seen over the last 25 years, I doubt any rail, above ground or below, will get built during the next 25 years. I’ll vote for it, but will believe it when I see it.

    • I’m really of the same mind. Columbus is just not forward thinking when it comes to transit. It’s constantly behind the times on this issue, and even when it tries, it’s a half-assed effort *coughcmaxcough*. I don’t think rail of any kind is coming to Columbus at any point in at least the next decade. There is no real will by leadership to make it happen, and much of the population seems content with things as they are.

  • RedStorm

    $1.1 billion to go 3 miles? Seriously?

    • The ongoing 70/71 split fix is a $1.6 billion project.

      Big infrastructure projects are expensive.

      • ehill27

        …and the split fix is 1.5 miles.

      • RedStorm

        As an interstate project, isn’t some of that tab picked up by federal funds? Seems like a different situation.

        • heresthecasey

          It’s not a different situation. The feds would pick up at least half of any cost associated with a tunnel project through FTA funding.

  • Deb P

    Subway, streetcar, light rail… Basically other options other than cars and busses, are sorely needed. Frankly, I don’t care where we start so long as we start. We are so behind, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to catch up.

  • Zyro

    I think the city needs to be prioritizing road diets above all else. Just run the train down High. Hell, what’s wrong with a BRT (a proper one like the one in Cleveland on Euclid, not the fake-BRT going on Cleveland Ave. here in Columbus)?? Cost-effecient alternative and creates a lovely, effective, efficient road diet. When done properly with its own signals for traffic, it’s just as fast as a much more expensive light rail.

    Broad Street, High Street…..two easy BRT routes.

    We should look more to South America for urban solutions. They tend to do things right, including BRT.

    • OwnTerms

      Thank you! Anyone who thinks we HAVE to build light-rail instead of just a much much more effective bus system, please read up on Curitiba. Please.

      • The system in Curitiba is cool and everything, but there’s absolutely no room for dedicated BRT lanes on High Street…

    • heresthecasey

      BRT would still need to run in an underground tunnel along this stretch to be anything close to as efficient as south american systems.

      Effective mass transit cannot be bogged down by the parking lot which stretches from Lane Ave to Goodale. Especially as part of a larger line running from Downtown to Polaris. It needs to move quickly, efficiently, and reliably; and it needs to be faster than driving a car.

      IMO a tunnel is not only a reasonable suggestion, but a necessary one along this stretch. Unless you want to completely eliminate on-street parking (and thereby also eliminate all of High St’s retail businesses), there is not enough room on the surface for a dedicated transit ROW. Period.

      I’m all for the tunnel, it would be a critically needed investment/link as part of a larger mass trasnit line along Columbus’ major corridor that connects many of our major employment/residential neighborhoods.

  • RogerRoger

    Isn’t eliminating street parking on High St and having light rail or BRT running above ground the best way to stop people from cluttering the Short North with their cars? Aren’t there a couple of new parking garages in Short North? People are going to keep driving if you give them cheap or free spots to park their cars. Pay to park in a garage if you need to drive and quit whining

  • cml43220

    This discussion reminds me of something familiar…


  • Clemn8r

    This is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard in my life. We have COTA, Taxis, Car to Go, bicycles, walking. Where in the world do you people think the 1.1 Billion will come from ???????? The Federal Govt. ? Sure…let’s just add that on to the National Debt too.

    Let’s be happy with what we have. If we want to improve, let’s give money to COTA for Hybrid busses and increase routes and ridership.

    Do any of you realize the disruption this would cause , for years, building this boondoggle ? Ask Cincinnati about their failed subway line !!

    Just my 2 cents worth…let’s forget this and look to other sources we already have and just make those things better !!

    • chaserdanger

      Failed subway line- yes the one thats a century old?

      Or how about the new Cincinnati Streetcar that is in the works. The idea is to talk about all options of public transit that can be presented for the future of Columbus.

  • mjb684

    Add some charm to mass transit. Use cable car for the dense downtown high street and short north. For wider streets and to extend the lines further use streetcars.

  • Jason Powell

    I’m a huge proponent of the need for more passenger rail in this city. That said, this is one of the more ridiculous ideas I’ve heard in a while. We have a hard enough time getting something as simple as a dedicated bike lane. ONE dedicated bike lane!

  • jrain157

    Any plan that doesn’t connect to CMH and get business commuters to major business hubs should not be considered.

  • ThruHikeMike

    Why don’t we just run Gondolas along High St. That’d be fun!


  • ColumbusMetro

    Why would a train have to be on High Street? Why can’t it travel Third, Fourth, or on another parallel corridor? Look at MARTA in Atlanta. Atlanta is laid out similar to Columbus. Their freeways are north, south, east and west, and they have an Outer belt; they call theirs’ the Perimeter. Our east and west is Broad, and our north and south is High Street. Have train service travel Third Street, Forth Street, and Sullivant Avenue/Main Street or another route from the Outer belt to Downtown, then from the Airport/Easton to Downtown between east and west lanes on 670.

    MARTA is very basic; some of the tracks are above ground, some are below, some follow streets, and some are raised, in the middle of freeways, and many times, it’s on an adjoining street instead of “a more populated street.” What I like about MARTA is it’s clean, inexpensive, and went to and from the airport, where a friend was able to pick me up/drop me off at a park and ride. Going to the airport was a breeze as we didn’t have to travel nightmarish Atlanta traffic, and everyone that got on (from North Springs), had luggage, so obviously, we all had the same idea! I’ve been told that many park and ride MARTA in the suburbs to go to Downtown or Midtown for sporting events, concerts and other events as well! A pre recording told what was near each stop, such as “exit here for State Capital, Ohio and Palace Theatre’s and the Columbus Museum of Art.” I think that’s a nice touch and would be great for tourists and promoting area attractions.

    I recently saw something on Dallas and Houston’s train service where the one in Houston is reportedly doing much better. Houston’s is exceeding with ridership, revenue, and with the area it serves. The comments were that development is booming near stops, young workers love it and expect it, and the suburbs helped raise money to pay for it with a 1 cent tax increase.

    Transportation and development isn’t just the city of Columbus’ challenge, let’s get the entire metro involved to discuss a way to make something work.

    “Metro Columbus, the heart of it all!”

    • heresthecasey

      One word: Density.

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