Friday, October 10, 2003

I-75 plan with rail passes

Total cost to be billions

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

QUEENSGATE - The region's main transportation planning agency Thursday overwhelmingly approved a mix of highway expansion and a new light-rail line as the best way to fix traffic on Interstate 75.

The 39-4 vote by the board of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments came almost a year after Hamilton County voters roundly defeated a proposed sales-tax increase that would have helped pay for a light-rail system.

The I-75 plan will now formally be considered for the region's 30-year, long-range transportation plan, which is updated every three years.

That updating process is expected to be complete by spring.

Entities such as the Ohio Department of Transportation then can seek federal money for design and construction. In addition, local funding needs to be found for light rail.Preliminary estimates on how long full implementation would take range from 15 to 25 years.

"It isn't going to solve the problem tomorrow, and it might not get built tomorrow, but we had to try and come up with alternatives so we do not leave our children and grandchildren insurmountable problems," said Ken Reed, the president of OKI's board and the agency's acting executive director. "We've got to start dealing with these issues now ... and this is a critical step toward that."

The plan is the result of a three-year, $6 million study. It calls for:

• Widening the freeway to four lanes continuously from the Ohio River through Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties.

• A light-rail line with trains every three minutes during rush hour and five minutes in off-peak times, at a cost of $1.83 billion in current dollars.

Those figures do not include an estimated $428 million in renovations and improvements already planned for the highway in Hamilton County. Nor do they include the estimated $750 million it will take to replace the I-71/I-75 Brent Spence Bridge.

"It's going to be a lot more expensive than that when all is said and done," said Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, one of the four no votes.

OKI's board consists of 105 business and community leaders from throughout the Tristate, including representatives from all major political jurisdictions - with fewer than half of the total members attending Thursday's meeting.


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