Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Metro plans $100M-plus expansion

Transit system would track suburban growth

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In an expansion aimed at following the growth of homes and jobs in suburban Cincinnati, Metro today will unveil a 10-year plan to dramatically increase regional transit service.

        The plan emphasizes east-west bus routes, and includes 28 new hubs (small transit stations) from Harrison and Cleves on the west, to Loveland and Eastgate to the east.

        Bus routes eventually would tie in with other forms of public transit, including a proposed light-rail system.

        Hub construction is estimated to cost $108 million to $192 million, with 90 percent coming from state and federal sources. Then, annual operating costs would be about $97 million, compared to annual operating costs of $67.8 million now.

        Both the Metro plan and light rail would rely heavily on state and federal funding, but ultimately, both are likely to require local money, too.

        “That's money we'd have to find somehow,” Metro spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers said Monday, alluding to a possible local tax.

        The three biggest contributors to Metro's 2000 operating budget are $28.1 million from Cincinnati's 0.3 percent earnings tax, $15.3 million from fares and $12.5 million in federal funding.

        Today's announcement at the Westin Hotel downtown will draw about 300 busi ness, political and civic representatives, Metro officials say.

        Metro makes 24 million passenger trips per year but is still concentrated within the city of Cincinnati.

        “It would improve for everybody,” said Harrison Mayor Daniel Gieringer. “With the way gambling's growing (in nearby southeast Indiana), Harrison's growth and new businesses, if they put a hub out here, they'd make money off it.”

        According to recently released U.S. Census figures, Cincinnati lost 9.1 percent of its population from 1990. Greater Cincinnatians are moving — but not far.

        Butler, Warren and Clermont counties continue to be among the fastest-growing in Ohio, and tax abatements and other incentives have drawn thousands of jobs from the inner city to the suburbs.

        But too often, expansion proponents say, you can't get there from here.

        This isn't news to Mylus Edwards, 33, of College Hill, owner of Unforgettable cleaning service.

        “I've had jobs in Blue Ash, and my car broke down,” Mr. Edwards said, getting out of his rental car downtown on Monday. “I had to rent a car. Lot of good jobs out there, so I think it's a good idea.”

        The plan to be unveiled today is the culmination of a year's worth of public forums; but how far the proposal reaches will depend on further public input and, ultimately, public funding.

        “People are going to have more options to driving your car to make the connections you need to make,” Ms. Hilvers said.

        Metro, a nonprofit public service of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, runs 439 buses about 13 million miles annually. It also provides about 11,000 rides for students to and from Cincinnati schools and parochial junior and senior high schools.

        When asked if the public would be receptive to financing a portion of the project, Randy Moss, 47, of Anderson Township, laughed.

        “Probably not, but I would,” he said, “I have kids who use the bus system to go to Reds games.”


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