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LinkUs Team Presents Vision for Northwest Transit Corridor

Brent Warren Brent Warren LinkUs Team Presents Vision for Northwest Transit CorridorA conceptual rendering showing Bus Rapid Transit on Olentangy River Road near North Broadway. All visuals courtesy of the City of Columbus.
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The City of Columbus and its partners have made some key decisions regarding a planned transit corridor along Olentangy River Road.

During an informational meeting about the project held virtually last week, Kristina Whitfield, Project Planner with consultant Kimley-Horn, said that the best chance for the corridor to receive federal funding moving forward is if it is served by an enhanced bus line – known as Bus Rapid Transit – and not by light rail.

What exactly that would look like in practice is still up in the air, but several speakers emphasized that fast and reliable service will be a priority, and that the overall goal is for the project to be “transformational,” even if that doesn’t involve tracks being laid in the ground.

“BRT is really rail on wheels,” said Whitfield, “This will be a next-level, premier situation that is not present in Columbus today.”

That means presumably that the proposed line would represent a step up from the CMAX, the Cleveland Avenue BRT line launched by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in 2018. CMAX buses stop less frequently than other lines and enjoy traffic signal priority, but they also run in mixed-traffic along the side of road – not in their own lanes in the middle of the road, like other, more extensive BRT systems.

“CMAX has been very successful,” said Zach Sunderland, Senior Service Planner at COTA, citing faster travel times and increased ridership along the route. “However, with LinkUs moving forward, we’re looking to build upon that investment…dedicated right of way is very important for reliability and travel times.”

Sunderland pointed to two existing BRT systems – the Red Line in Indianapolis and the HealthLine in Cleveland – as examples of “the standard that is more of what we’re looking for.”

A conceptual rendering presented at the meeting shows two bus-only lanes running down the center of Olentangy River Road near North Broadway, each served by a single boarding platform featuring a protected waiting area and ticket machines for off-board fare collection.

Whitfield said that ridership projections indicate that the Northwest corridor would not see a high enough level of ridership – even with the increased housing density that is an overall goal of the LinkUs initiative – to justify the added expense and longer construction time of a light rail line.

Many decisions remain to be made about the new line, including what its exact alignment will be. Starting today and running through February 19, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on that and other topics via a self-guided “virtual open house.”

Different route options are being presented for two separate sections of the corridor (see map below).

For the part of the corridor that runs from Bethel Road to Goodale Boulevard, three options are given – one stays on Olentangy River Road for the whole route; one takes a detour in order to pass by OSU’s west campus, where significant development is planned; and the third option veers west at Henderson Road to travel down Kenny Road before returning along North Broadway.

Three options are also presented for getting from Goodale Boulevard to Downtown – two of which run through the Arena District and the other through Franklinton.

The Franklinton route would involve traveling down Twin Rivers Drive and connecting up with Souder Avenue – either using existing roads or via a new roadway that would be built underneath I-670, providing a much more direct link between the two roads than currently exists.

In addition to the city and COTA, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is a partner in the LinkUs initiative.

For more information on the Northwest Corridor proposal, including a chance to provide feedback, see linkuscolumbus.com/nw-open-house/.

A map showing different proposed route alternatives.
This portion of Olentangy River Road today has two car lanes running in both directions, with a large concrete median in between.
This rendering shows the roadway as it would look with dedicated BRT lanes, a center boarding platform and adjacent development.
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