Friday, March 02, 2001

Light rail

It's time to get on board

        Before a light-rail system pulls out of the station and heads for a vote, the project needs some conductors.

        It doesn't matter where they're from — business, government, private life — these conductors must make sure everyone is on board. And, they have to persuade each passenger to be a paying customer.

        Otherwise, there will be enough trouble down the line to derail the whole project — and slam the brakes on progress throughout the region.

        Unity won't come easily. We are fiercely loyal to which side of town — or which side of the river — we're from. Despite such loyalties, Greater Cincinnatians need to buy into and pay for a light-rail system today so everyone can move toward a better tomorrow.

Blue line

        A high-powered economic impact study released this week made rosy predictions for light rail. By the study's estimates, 19 miles of track along Interstate 71 would benefit the local economy by $786 million.

        The system's initial line would run from Blue Ash to Covington and open in 2008. The cost: $800 million. More lines to the west, the airport, Paramount's Kings Island, and Clermont and Butler counties would follow. Some day.

        The system could be paid for in part by increasing Hamilton county's sales tax. There's talk of asking for the increase as early as the November elections.

        Paul Jablonski, Metro's general manager, told me such talk is “highly presumptive.”

        As Metro's chief conductor, he knows he must first do lots of speech-making, arm-twisting and persuading. Only then can a light-rail plan go before the voters.

        The sales tax behind Paul Brown Stadium continues to give us a splitting headache. So, any talk, no matter how speculative, about upping the sales tax in Hamilton County is explosive.

        You could juggle three jugs of nitroglycerin and feel safer.

All aboard

        Light rail has my vote. We can't go on building highways, clogging them with polluting cars and wasting time stuck in gridlock. The region will grow faster and better by rail.

        But, I realize, not everyone is convinced.

        Because I am one of them, I can see hard-headed west-siders questioning the first light-rail line's location along distant I-71. They have every right to wonder what's in it for them.

        Because I am married to one of them, I can also see hard-headed east-siders questioning a light-rail line that isn't built immediately to the airport or Kings Island. Both places are annually frequented by millions of potential passengers.

        These doubts must be erased or, at the very least, eased. If not, any tax issue on light rail is headed for defeat and this train is bound for disaster.

        That destination could soon change for the better. Come March 20, results of Metro's exhaustive MetroMoves survey will be released.

        Paul Jablonski hinted that the survey's findings call for a regional transit system with buses and light rail linking neighborhoods, counties and states. Light rail would be built in stages. The I-71 route goes first. That's where 40 percent of the region's jobs are.

        “You have to start somewhere,” he said.

        “But you must promise there's more to come.”

        That promise must be kept. The good coming from light rail is a train everyone will want to catch.

       Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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