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Light Rail in Columbus? OSU Class Gets Conversation Started Again

Brent Warren Brent Warren Light Rail in Columbus? OSU Class Gets Conversation Started AgainOpinion: car2go’s Departure Should Refocus Investment Toward Public Transit
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An OSU urban planning class has made the latest splash in what seems like a never-ending discussion in Columbus – should we add rail transit to our expanding list of alternative transportation options?

With new streetcar lines under construction in Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Antonio, and St. Louis, a light rail line being installed in Detroit, and major expansions underway to existing rail transit systems in Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, and Minneapolis, those who’d like to see some sort of rail transit in Columbus could be forgiven for growing a little impatient – many proposals have come and gone over the years, and no tracks are being laid or funds being secured.

Local advocacy group Transit Columbus hoped to re-charge the conversation; earlier this year they reached out to OSU’s City and Regional Planning Department and requested a studio course be dedicated to studying mass transit options in Columbus.

The class, led by planner and professor Chad Gibson, built a website featuring a simple survey as well as a tool that allows users to design their own transit system. They also established a presence on twitter and prepared a presentation for Mayor Coleman’s airport task force, which has been studying the possibility of a rail connection to the airport.

The students recommended two lines – one traveling along High Street from German Village to Old North Columbus, and a second leg connecting Downtown and the airport, with trains mostly traveling on East Broad Street. The estimated cost of the High Street line is $335 million, while the Broad Street line would cost around $406 million. Projected ridership for both lines combined is 29,000 per day. Gibson said that the students’ full report will be released within the next two weeks.

Elissa Schneider, Board Chair of Transit Columbus, stressed the importance of the students’ work in the context of a larger push for rail.

“Large scale public transit options are extremely complex and will require significant buy-in and community input,” she said. “The more imagining, brainstorming and visioning that community groups can do, the better. It’s been especially cool to see how engaged COTA, MORPC and the City of Columbus were in providing advice and information to the students.”

The students’ report comes at a time of increasing activity on the rail front. The airport task force’s regional transportation working group – chaired by MORPC’s William Murdock –  has been working on their own rail study, which should be released at the beginning of next year. COTA has said that 2015 will be a year of visioning for the organization; they will be reaching out to the community for inspiration and have hired a consultant to produce a “Next Generation” plan that will look at all options for expanding the transit system.

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