COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The minds behind the “LinkUS” rapid transit plan say they’re ready to move forward with a massive infrastructure investment plan.
However, for that plan to be come a reality it will likely need community support for a tax increase as soon as this November.
LinkUS is a partnership between the City of Columbus, Central Ohio Transit Authority, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. This week, they agreed to move forward with a plan to invest $1.4 billion by 2030 to build three high-capacity rapid-transit corridors, a new transit service, and $380 million in new sidewalks, bikeways, trails, and roads.
“In Columbus, we have talked about mobility, we have talked about transit, we have talked about this for so many years – now is the time,” said Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin.
“We added a quarter million people in the last ten years. We’re expected to add more. So if we’re going to do these investments, we need to do them now so we can get ready for that growth and make sure we’re giving ourselves a better quality of life,” said William Murdock, executive director of MORPC.
The LinkUS team says they’ve asked the community for input via online and in-field surveys, grassroots outreach, corridor specific pop ups, door drops, and virtual stakeholder events. The hope is to connect residents to existing opportunities while creating the capacity to handle future residents and future opportunities.
“It’ll transform the way we get around, and how to make walking, biking, and utilizing transit an easier choice. If you’re able to have the right type of development around station locations it’s just an easier choice to choose to get on and off,” said Senior Development Director with COTA Kim Sharp.
“If enough of the development, contextually appropriate for the Columbus region, can be put along the corridors and around the stations, it just makes it easier for people to get to those jobs and get to healthcare appointments and get to their educational facilities,” Sharp said.
“So we’re looking at how we can build these corridors, build these transportation connections so you’ve got lots of choices so that you stay here, you want to grow your family and go after that job at Intel, at Hyperion, wherever,” Murdock said.
Funding would come from the federal infrastructure law passed by congress last year, but local dollars would need to be raised to match. The number of projects vying for those dollars across the country are raising the stakes.
“This is a generational investment,” Murdock said. “But most of those dollars are competitive. Which means, if we as a community have a plan — and we’re really assertive at going after the kind of things that we think our communities needs like transit — now is the time to come together and to go after those funds. Because we have this window that’s opened up to let us move forward really quickly on these big types of projects.”
“What we can’t have is our tax dollars from Columbus going across the country to other communities across the country that are growing as well — like Indianapolis [and] like Austin and like Charlotte who have their plans ready — when we should be bringing those dollars back home,” Hardin said.
A vote on community support and funding could come as soon as this November’s election.
“The COTA board of trustees will need to decide, if we move forward with this ask, how to establish a sustainable, local funding mechanism that can then be leveraged throughout the region for these kind of mobility infrastructure investments,” Sharp said. “Discussions are this year. And that’ll be taken forward to the board, and then the timeline will come from the board.”
Murdock says the time to act is now, before the funding disappears and so change can be seen more rapidly.
“As this project moves forward, we could be looking at projects to bike trails, to sidewalks within the next year or two.
“So this could be coming really quickly and five to seven years from now, it could be just transformative. We would have options we don’t have right now,” Murdock said.
“There’s an urgent need to do this now in our community. What with things like Intel, that need is only growing bigger. So, we need to move forward quickly as community. When we’re thinking about the timing though, whether it’s asking for more funds from the voters or if it’s looking at these federal infrastructure dollars, the window is open to do this so we’re all lining up to move it forward as quickly as we can,” Murdock concluded.