Friday, February 23, 2001

Light rail called boon to economy

Study sees $300M effect near stops

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A study of the proposed light-rail line running from Covington to Blue Ash predicts the system would trigger more than $300 million in economic development near the route's stops.

        New retail, office and residential developments would spring up near some of the system's 19 stations along Interstate 71, according to an analysis by HLB Decision Economics.

        The Washington, D.C., firm is studying the proposed $800 million commuter system for the Regional Mobility Alliance and will release more detailed results at the alliance's meeting Tuesday.

        The analysis is also expected to show a light-rail system's impact on traffic congestion and ability to transport low-income people to important destinations like suburban jobs.

        Metro General Manager Paul Jablonski described the $300 million-plus estimate as “conservative” and said not all stops would get an equal share of new development.

        “I think there are several good locations and several that offer, at this point in time, minimal development,” said Mr. Jablonski, who has inspected and commented on the study's results.

        The Ohio-Kentucky—Indiana Council of Governments and Metro are promoting light rail to reduce Greater Cincinnati's traffic congestion, pollution and sprawl, as well as spur economic development.

        Jim Neyer, vice president of the real estate development firm Al Neyer Inc., isn't surprised by HLB's estimate. He said large swaths of the proposed route along an old rail line are underused.

        “The ease of transportation makes it great for businesses that rely on employees who need public transportation,” Mr. Neyer said.

        An average 40-minute drive from Blue Ash to downtown will increase to 45 minutes in 2008 and 56 minutes by 2020 without light rail, according to preliminary survey results released Feb. 1.

        Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, who has not seen the survey's final results, questions whether the system would bring in the type of development the area needs.

        For instance, Cincinnati's home ownership rate of 38 percent significantly trails the national average, but light rail may encourage more concentrated rental developments like high-rise apartments, he said.

        “Even if there is no development, these residents (near stations) are going to benefit,” said Khalid Bekka, HLB's vice president.


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