Saturday, March 21, 1998
I-71 options list widens
3-year discussion back to square 1

BY GREGORY A. HALL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just days from selecting a way for Greater Cincinnati to improve traffic flow on Interstate 71, a regional transportation committee voted to reconsider discarded options.

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments' I-71 corridor committee voted Friday to reconsider high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and another option that would combine several alternatives.

The group's chairman, Kenton County Commissioner Bernie Moorman, called the move ''a terrible mistake.''

Committee members have spent the past three years looking at transportation needs and options along the 44-mile stretch of I-71 between the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport and Paramount's Kings Island.

The preferred option is supposed to be chosen during a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the lobby of the Cinergy Building, Fourth and Main streets.

The committee had voted a week ago to eliminate the HOV lanes, citing concerns that the proposal would hurt air pollution reduction efforts, one of its goals.

Advocating any program that increased pollution would put Cincinnati's bid behind any other projects that reduce pollution, Mr. Moorman said. Because of the limited amount of federal transportation money, he said, it will be more difficult for new projects like Cincinnati's to get funding.

Ralph Grieme of the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission said the vote to eliminate HOV lanes was premature, and questioned the numbers that showed HOV lanes would cause more pollution. He said the increase wouldn't be that great when factored into the entire region's pollution.

OKI executive director Jim Duane disputed that and said any increase could put the region over federal limits.

''The real world is we've only been making it by a tiny amount,'' he said.

If further study doesn't support HOV lanes, the option could be eliminated again, Mr. Grieme said.

Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin has asked that Tuesday night's vote be delayed, and has sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, suggesting that the area should wait to apply for funding.

The confusion over HOV lanes, he said, is another reason the project may have to pass on federal funding.

''Our very conversation here today, I think, supports that,'' Mr. Dowlin said. ''. . . All of this says to me, we don't understand enough to make a decision of this magnitude.''

Light rail, an urban railway powered by electricity from overhead wire, is seen by the public as a more attractive mass transit option than riding the bus, according to OKI surveys.

Mr. Dowlin said he doesn't believe the benefits of light rail are worth the estimated $1.6 billion price tag of the entire system. Mr. Portman wants a decision from the committee by the end of the month.

Mr. Dowlin said he expects the committee will vote for light rail on Tuesday.

Choosing a light rail transit system would mean Northern Kentucky won't get anything, Mr. Grieme said. The first phase of light rail calls for a bridge from downtown Cincinnati into Kentucky with a station and roughly a mile of track in Covington.

''You have to adopt some plan that addresses the whole corridor,'' he said.

Mr. Moorman called that short-sighted, saying the second phase would carry light rail into the Northern Kentucky suburbs.

''To say Northern Kentucky isn't going to benefit isn't looking beyond the first step of that effort,'' he said.

Mr. Moorman said the people asking for delays are just against light rail.

''They've come in with a bias and they've accused everyone else of having a bias for light rail,'' he said.