Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Light rail here a similar story

Other U.S. cities have set examples

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The public voiced its strong opposition to plans for an overly ambitious $793 million regional light-rail plan. Sound familiar? That's what happened in Kansas City last week, when voters crushed a light-rail referendum for the fourth straight year.

        Seeing public criticism defeat similar plans in other U.S. cities, and noting the success of more modest versions in Dallas and Denver, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments has scaled back its proposal for an $800 million light-rail system.

        In abandoning its support of a regional system that would include 19 miles along Interstate 71 from Covington to Blue Ash, OKI says it is simply responding to the public input it requested.

        “You run into "Not in my back yard' from those near a (proposed line) and "Great, but it doesn't serve me' from people on the other side of town,” OKI light-rail project manager Judi Craig said Monday. “It doesn't do us good to lay down lines on a map and say this is where it's going to be. Cost is based on ridership.”

        Rail integration with expanded bus service is critical, she said, and that dovetails into Metro's 30-year plan for expanded bus service throughout the suburbs.

        At public hearings in numerous communities, including Norwood, Deer Park and Silverton, opposition to light rail was strong. Many residents said its would lower home values and destroy green space in its path.

        At a Norwood open house, for instance, Norwood teacher Rene Dierker referred to the $800 million rail plan as a “dog and pony show.”

        “It's never pretty, and it takes a pretty tough backbone to go out there and listen to all sides of the process,” she said.

        Ultimately, the system of getting public response worked. In Dallas, for instance, voters rejected a light-rail proposal, which led to funding without a referendum. It has never been on the ballot in Cincinnati.

        The focus now shifts to taking advantage of existing rail lines, including the six miles of track extending from Covington to Xavier University in Evanston, via downtown, and the tracks that run along the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Lawrenceburg, Ind.

        That shift won't serve Warren County, because it doesn't have existing lines where new transportation is needed most, commissioner Larry Crisenbery, a former OKI president and light-rail supporter, said Monday.


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