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Federal Funds Directed Toward Two Transit Corridor Projects

Brent Warren Brent Warren Federal Funds Directed Toward Two Transit Corridor ProjectsA bus on the IndyGo Red Line in Indianapolis. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
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The first two transit corridors planned under the LinkUs initiative have made it onto a list of projects that will receive federal funding within the next four years.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) maintains the list – called the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) – and announced last week that both the Northwest corridor and the East-West corridor are now in line to receive federal funding in the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years.

A total of $4.8 million is being directed toward the Northwest corridor, which roughly follows Olentangy River Road from Downtown to Bethel Road. A consultant was hired last year to make recommendations for transit improvements along the route and to lay out a strategy for getting it built.

The East-West corridor, which would run along West Broad Street and either East Main Street or East Broad Street, is now in line to receive $17.57 million.

Thomas Graham, Associate Planner for MORPC, says that the exact use of the funds has not been finalized, but the scope of the project will “include the study, design, and construction of potential BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) options along their respective corridors.”

The BRT envisioned for the corridors would likely be a significant step up from the region’s first BRT line, the CMAX, which runs up Cleveland Avenue. Buses on that route, for example, run in mixed traffic along the side of the road, not in a dedicated lane in the middle.

City officials have said that Indianapolis’ Red Line is a model for the type of system they see working in Central Ohio – it features electric buses, dedicated lanes for much of the route, and off-board fare collection and raised platforms to speed up the boarding process.

Although the funding outlined in the TIP list is nowhere close to the amount needed to fully build out an extensive BRT system on either corridor (the LinkUs framework document estimates a cost of $10-35 million per mile) local transit backers are still excited about the news.

There is also still a possibility that a rail option might be pursued for one or more of the corridors. Both BRT and light rail are being evaluated as part of the ongoing planning work for the Northwest corridor, specifically, according to the city.

A map from earlier in the process showing all five proposed corridors, courtesy of the City of Columbus.

“This is a great step…[it’s] an acknowledgement that we have moved beyond the ad nauseum planning efforts of the last decade and into a period where we are seeing real movement to bring high capacity transit to Columbus at all levels of government,” says Josh Lapp, board chair of the advocacy group Transit Columbus. “With LinkUs launched we’re no longer talking about if, but instead about when, exactly where, and how much.”

City Council President Shannon Hardin agrees, and hopes the new dedicated funding helps to convince people that these corridor projects are really moving forward.

“This is 100 percent real and it is happening,” he says. “One of the opportunities going forward is making sure the public is bought in and our advocate groups are engaged…because there’s a disconnect; folks don’t understand how far along we are, and that this is real.”

Hardin, who has been a supporter of MORPC and its work on the Insight 2050 and Corridor Concepts initiatives, says it’s too early to say where additional funding for the projects might come from, but he believes the region could put together a very competitive application for one of the federal grant-based programs that support transit.

“One of benefits that comes from being late to the party in terms of transit, is we can learn what to do, what not to do, and how to do it,” he adds. “Our plan is a corridor plan, not a transit plan alone…it includes a housing plan and the Columbus zoning code evaluation, all working in coordination, with everyone at the table.”

Despite getting started right before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Hardin says the planning efforts for the Northwest and East-West corridors have continued to move forward without any loss of momentum.

“Our growth projections have not changed because of the pandemic, and one thing it has done is expedite certain conversations,” he says. “We saw that our transit system became a critical lifeline to many essential workers in our community.”

Editor’s note (11/13/20): This article was updated to include information from the city about light rail, which is still being considered as a possible transit mode for the Northwest corridor.  

For more information, see linkuscolumbus.com.

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