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Underground Light Rail Idea Presented as Connect Columbus Initiative Continues

Brent Warren Brent Warren Underground Light Rail Idea Presented as Connect Columbus Initiative ContinuesPhoto by Derek Jensen.
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The city’s Connect Columbus initiative continues this week with a third round of workshops designed to generate discussion about driving, walking, biking and riding in Columbus. As they’ve done in the first two week-long sessions, the city and its team of consultants will provide maps, case studies from other cities, and lots of data about all forms of transportation in the city.

The first two workshops also contained their share of new ideas and concepts, such as suggestions for adding bike lanes to certain streets or redesigning intersections to reduce traffic congestion. One idea, though, presented at the closing presentation of last month’s Clintonville session, stands out for its boldness; a light rail line from campus to downtown running underneath High Street for a portion of its length.

Paul Moore, of project consultant Nelson Nygaard, explained that there are a couple of reasons to consider such a plan, particularly in the Short North:

High Street is the corridor in Columbus that already has the fundamentals in place to make transit work. It is also arguably the best walking street, the best street for businesses (with on-street parking), an important driving street and a desirable biking street… and there is not enough space to accommodate all of the needs of each of these elements. Accommodating great transit in a way that allows those other elements to thrive has great value. It remains to be seen whether the citizens feel that value is worth the high cost, but we believe the question deserves a dialogue before it is dismissed.

A rough cost estimate and alignment was provided as part of the presentation. Three miles of light rail from Broad Street to 17th Avenue – with a two-mile section running underground roughly from Goodale Street to 17th – could cost in the neighborhood of $1.1 billion.

Moore explained that they used costs from the Crenshaw Metro Line in Los Angeles (which is currently under construction) as a guide. That project will have two separate underground portions and will use a technique called “cut and cover” to build them – instead of drilling a tunnel underneath a street, an open trench is dug, with tracks and infrastructure being built a half-block at a time before being covered up again.

“The cost of this type of construction tends to be lower than tunneling, but there is more disruption along the street while the trench is open,” he said.  “It’s a tradeoff. We have by no means concluded whether such a project or such a tradeoff is right for Columbus or for High Street.”

To weigh in on the idea, visit www.columbus.gov/connectcolumbus or attend one of the design workshops scheduled for every day this week at the Franklin County Board of Elections, 1700 Morse Road.

COTA’s NextGen initiative is also soliciting ideas on the future of transit in Columbus. More details at www.cota.com/nextgen.

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