Sunday, March 28, 1999

Mass transit is a missing piece

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If the Summer Olympics come to Cincinnati, so do millions of spectators who need to be shuttled around town.

        Buses, good highways, ARTIMIS signs above the freeways and airports would all be important parts of the transportation system.

        But there is a key component that's not in place: light rail.

        “You can't do the Olympics without the light-rail system,” said David Gosling, Ohio eminent scholar in urban design at the University of Cincinnati.

        Atlanta's mass transit system moved 25.3 million people in 17 days during the 1996 summer games, and it was one of the reasons that city was chosen to stage the Olympics. The day Salt Lake City was chosen for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the federal government said it would pay for 80 percent of a $15 million light-rail project that was planned, but lacked funding.

        Although Cincinnati doesn't have light rail yet, serious planning is in the works to make it the region's mass transit system.

        Preliminary engineering studies are under way for a 16-mile light-rail line running from Covington to Blue Ash. It would run by the University of Cincinnati, where events could be held and athletes could be housed.

        The Interstate 71 corridor line could be open by fall 2004 if the $600 million line gets final approval after those studies are done and federal, state and local funding comes through.

        “It puts the city in a far better position,” Mr. Gosling said.

        Five of the seven other cities bidding for the 2012 Summer Olympics already have a rail mass transit system up and running — Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C./Baltimore. Houston and Tampa are studying rail.

        Based on cities that have been awarded the Olympics in the past, “cities that don't have a mass transit system will be at a disadvantage,” said Dave Anderson, district director of civic and promotional affairs for Delta Air Lines. He is heading a transportation committee preparing a report for Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic group on how to move the millions of people the games would attract.

        Cincinnati's mass transit plans are bigger than the 16-mile line from Covington to Blue Ash. There are plans to extend the I-71 corridor line south to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and north to Paramount's Kings Island, near the ATP Tennis Center.

        “It's critical to have the airport link and the link north,” said Jim Duane, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

        With the Olympics more than a decade away, the region should be able to develop rail lines along the I-75 corridor, and the east-west corridor should be served in some way, he said. The rail lines would come together in downtown Cincinnati at a transit center on the new Second Street. Buses would be staged there, too.

        “Cincinnati can have light rail without the Olympics,” Mr. Duane said. “But Cincinnati can't have the Olympics without light rail.”


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