Sunday, December 7, 2003

Transit meeting feeling gloomy

Audience sees worsening traffic, little cash for fixes

By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CAMP WASHINGTON - A year after Hamilton County voters rejected a $4 billion plan to help finance expanded bus service and build a light-rail system, the region's transportation system got low marks overall at a public forum Saturday, with uncertainty whether a similar tax proposal would pass in the future.

About 75 people - including residents, planners and transportation officials - attended the forum held by the nonprofit Citizens for Civic Renewal at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

Participants used wireless keypads to enter responses to transportation question that were transmitted to a screen so those attending could immediately see the results.

About 85 percent of those participating rated the region's overall transportation system as "fair" or "poor."

Some of the ideas to tackle regional traffic woes presented Saturday:

Make walking and biking more attractive

Heated bus shelters

Elevated mini-monorails

Smaller, more frequent buses

Commuter trains to outer suburbs

Rapid-transit subways

Aerial trams, or "gondolas"

Inclined-plane streetcars on Cincinnati's steep hills

Highway widening/interchange upgrades

High-speed bus lanes

But the majority of audience members at the forum responded "maybe" or "not at all likely" to the question of whether Hamilton County voters would approve additional annual taxes of $100 a household to develop transportation options, possibly including rail service, to reduce congestion.

Estimates of cost per household during the failed light-rail campaign ranged from about $68 to $117, said Stephan Louis, who fought the proposal in 2002 as chairman of Alternatives to Light Rail Transit.

"I see the road congestion getting worse and worse and worse, and something needs to be done about it," said Nancy Walters, 65, of Hyde Park, a health-care instructor at Cincinnati State who attended the forum.

"I think we need to move toward getting some kind of rapid transit that gets people in and out of the city and is available for everyone," Walters said.

A 2002 study by the Texas Transportation Institute ranked the Cincinnati region as the 27th worst metro area in total annual congestion costs.

That study estimated the annual cost of congestion in the area to be $440 million, with the annual cost of fuel spent because of traffic delays to be $65 million.

Traffic woes here are partly "a problem of our own making," said Janet Keller of Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments during a presentation at the forum.

"There is a tendency in the OKI region to use the interstates for short trips because it saves time," Keller said.

But there are consequences, such as the effect on air quality, she said.

In April, federal air quality standards will become more stringent, and OKI expects that Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Kenton, Boone and Campbell counties will not meet the new standards.

Jerald Robertson, 68, of Elmwood Place, said after the forum that he was interested in the sustainability of any transportation plan, and how it would affect his community. It's not so much an issue now, Robertson said, but in 20 years, the roads could be "one great big traffic jam."

"We've got to be planning how to take some action," he said.

The responses provide a glimpse into what people in the region are thinking, said Ed Burdell of local research company Applied Information Resources, who served as the forum's moderator.

The results will go to groups such as OKI to help them make policy decisions, he said.


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