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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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