The Anti-Rail Bogeymen Lose Their Teeth

On Sept. 29, a multi-year study of the future of transportation along I-75 came to something of a conclusion with a 27-1 vote to recommend a slightly wider highway along with expanded bus service an

On Sept. 29, a multi-year study of the future of transportation along I-75 came to something of a conclusion with a 27-1 vote to recommend a slightly wider highway along with expanded bus service and light rail. The lone dissenting vote was Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, a leader in the anti-rail campaign last fall.

Dyed-in-the-wool road guys from the Ohio and Kentucky departments of transportation — people with asphalt running in their veins — conceded that more highway lanes alone don't cut it anymore. Hamilton County Engineer Bill Brayshaw, a Republican Party stalwart, introduced the motion to pass the recommended plan.

The recommendation gets voted on Thursday by the full Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) board. It's expected to pass and be included in OKI's long-range transportation plan, which helps qualify it for future funding.

Once passed, the I-75 plan would be the second major corridor initiative studied recently by OKI — the Eastern Corridor being the other — to conclude that rail transit must be part of a long-range solution to jammed roads, sprawling growth and poor air quality.

Funny what a difference a year can make. Last fall, Issue 7 — a comprehensive public transit plan for the Tristate that featured five light rail lines coordinated with neighborhood bus hubs — went down hard in Hamilton County, losing 68-32 percent.

A coalition of prominent politicians — U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, former Rep. Tom Luken, Mayor Charlie Luken, County Auditor Dusty Rhodes and Dowlin — worked against Issue 7, mocking the idea that such a progressive concept could work in this conservative region.

Self-proclaimed "transit expert" Stephan Louis created doubts about every economic, environmental and civic advancement that pro-transit folks claimed.

In the end, as one Issue 7 supporter told me after the election, the initiative turned out to be a solution looking for a problem. Though the core city neighborhoods of Cincinnati favored better public transit, the outer neighborhoods and the suburbs killed Issue 7 because they didn't see why they should change their transportation habits.

A year later, the mainstream experts have embraced the "multi-modal" concept of transportation planning, combining better highways with up-to-date public transit. And the anti-rail bogeymen are suddenly out on the fringe.

Hard-core highway planners have finally given up the ghost that more and more lanes are the answer to more and more traffic. They've finally come to understand that bigger highways increase traffic instead of decreasing it.

Last week's report from the Texas Transportation Institute put the nail in the "no problem here" coffin, as Cincinnati traffic was ranked the 27th most congested in the country. The annual cost of wasted gasoline and lost productivity spent sitting in traffic was estimated to be $525 million in Greater Cincinnati.

And the conservative think tank put the old thinking aside with this admonition in its report: "The analysis presented here is not intended to suggest that road construction is the best or only method to address congestion, but some readers will interpret it that way. ... This analysis shows that it would be almost impossible to attempt to maintain a constant congestion level with road construction only."

Meanwhile, the Ohio Elections Commission recently issued a finding that Louis attempted to affect the outcome of the Issue 7 campaign by misrepresenting anti-rail information. It'll be difficult to take seriously anything he says from here on out about public transit.

It's also difficult to understand why many of the politicians who promote adventurous development ideas that work in other cities — new stadiums, Beale Street entertainment districts — dismiss the positive impact of light rail systems in hot cities like Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Seattle, Charlotte and Portland, Ore.

Basically, they do it because they can get away with it. But not anymore.

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