Sunday, February 06, 2000

Neighbors now top concern of rail planners

Study cost cut to $5.5 million

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Light-rail planners are concentrating on answering what electric-powered trains would mean to people in the neighborhoods they run through — everything from noise to the potential for new businesses or homeowners.

        Planners are putting the more technical engineering aspects of their study, such as figuring out how high the curbs should be at a particular station, on hold for now.

        The decision means the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will spend only half of the original $11 million allocated for the three-year study for an 18-mile line from 12th Street in Covington to Cornell Road in Blue Ash.

        And it means people who live in areas the train is proposed to travel through will have better answers to their questions about what they can expect if the rail line is built.

        “It's pretty clear at some point to get a referendum we have to answer questions that engineering won't answer,” said Jim Duane, OKI executive director. “One thing we learned in the public hearings is that people wanted to know what light rail will mean to them.”

        In a round of public hearings last summer, planners met unexpected opposition in Deer Park. Residents there said they didn't want it in their neighborhood.

        Greater Cincinnati is in the third of five stages it takes to bring light rail. Usually at this stage, communities complete preliminary engineering and environmental studies. After that, people are asked to help pay for the system.

        Cities such as Orlando com pleted costly preliminary engineering studies and then found out taxpayers weren't willing to pay for a system. So, following a national trend, Greater Cincinnati wants to focus on making sure the local money is in place before spending millions on engineering studies, Mr. Duane said.

        That's being done through a 17-member committee called the Metropolitan Mobility Alliance. It's chaired by Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. and includes business men and women, representatives of each of the region's eight counties and the city of Cincinnati, and representatives of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK).

        “Before we could adopt a plan or responsibly ask voters for their consideration, we need to have a better handle on the bigger picture,” Mr. Neyer said.

        In the next nine months they're supposed to:

        • Set priorities for the order in which to build light rail and commuter rail routes. OKI envisions electric-powered light rail and diesel-powered commuter rail coming from the north, south, east and west of Cincinnati into downtown.

        • Decide who would govern a rail system. SORTA and TANK formed an umbrella agency that could run light rail, but the committee also will consider forming a new agency to run a multistate system.

        • Come up with local money. Voters could be asked as early as spring 2001 to help pay for a light rail system through a yet-to-be-determined tax.

        Finding local money to match potential federal money is key. The region's focus has been on the Interstate 71 light rail corridor, but more rail lines are planned and that needs to be conveyed to voters for a tax to pass, Mr. Duane said.


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