Planning Work Continues on Columbus to Chicago High Speed Rail Idea
Although it’s been nearly two years since we first reported on the proposal to build a high-speed passenger rail connection between Columbus and Chicago, the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has quietly kept up their planning efforts, coordinating communication among the local jurisdictions along the proposed line and supporting two separate proposals submitted last fall to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that would pay for the next step in the process, a Tier One Environmental Impact Statement.
MORPC recently found out that one of those proposals was turned down – a $3.2 million grant request submitted by the Indiana Department of Transportation was not selected for funding by the FRA. Bernice Cage of MORPC said that they are in the process of scheduling a debriefing session with FRA staff, “to understand how our application ranked against the others so that we may strengthen future funding applications.”
MORPC is still waiting to hear about a second federal application, this one submitted by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC).
The MIPRC proposal asks that the FRA take the lead on planning for the whole Midwest Region, which would include the Chicago to Columbus route as one of many proposed corridors. The FRA solicited this type of regional proposal, saying that the agency would provide all of the funding for the project they selected, taking it all the way through the assessment and planning stages.
“These are small steps, but they are good, healthy steps,” said Thea Walsh, director of Transportation Systems and Funding at MORPC. For these types of complex, expensive, and large-scale projects, “it’s about consistent, methodical planning all throughout the process, so that when the right political window is open, whether that is now or in the future, we can take advantage of that opportunity.”
Although good news on the MIPRC proposal would certainly help to push the process along, Walsh said that even if the FRA turns that down as well, the Columbus to Chicago project would be far from dead.
“The only thing that shuts it down for MORPC is if our members don’t support it,” she said. “We work for our members, so the way I see it, if the FRA doesn’t support it, we’re prepared to start talking and continue fundraising efforts to raise the $3.2 million dollars – that may not necessarily be a slower approach, and it’s something they are definitely ready to do in Indiana.”
Walsh also sees potential in the three planning initiatives happening now in Columbus – the city’s Connect Columbus, MORPC’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan and COTA’s NextGen process – to move the conversation about regional connectivity forward.
“With all three of these coming together,” she said, “it seems like a good time for central Ohio to start thinking about other ways to get around our region.”
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