Ohio is finally getting on track in the transportation sector with the receipt of $400,000,000 in federal stimulus support to re-establish passenger rail in our state. By 2011, construction efforts will begin for a passenger rail line connecting Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Dayton, which will reach 60% of Ohio’s population.

This is the first step in a larger passenger rail and bus system that will connect dozens of Ohio cities as well as connect Ohioans to major destinations like Chicago and New York City. These investments will re-energize our economy, protect the environment, modernize our transportation choices, and decrease reliance on foreign oil.

While Ohio ranks 4th in the nation for greenhouse gas emissions, our state ranks 40th in mass transit spending as a percentage of total transportation appropriations. With less than 1 percent of Ohio’s transportation budget allocated towards public transit, Indiana spends nearly 4 times more per capita, Michigan nearly 10 times more, and Pennsylvania 33 times more. The 21st century economy will rely less on costly, dirty, and finite fossil fuels. Investments in the 3C start up will help us begin this transition. With 36 states currently developing or implementing statewide passenger rail plans, Ohio needed this economic boost to remain competitive.

According to the Council of State Governments, Ohio leads the nation in the growth of green jobs, and with the receipt of this federal support, even more of Ohio’s skilled workforce will soon head back to work. Smart Growth America and PIRG have found that stimulus money spent on public transit projects creates twice the number of jobs that highway projects create. While the fully-built Ohio Hub will create 16,700 Ohio jobs, this initial phase will result in least 250 new jobs in construction, nearly 150 for the long-term operations of the corridor, and countless others in manufacturing. Economic development around the stations will stimulate long-term revitalization of larger and smaller cities as well.

During the last transportation budget, the leadership in the Ohio Senate resisted investments in passenger rail despite the results of a Quinnipiac University poll from March 2009 that demonstrated that 64% of Ohioans supported this rail plan, with particularly strong support from younger generations. According to the American Public Transportation Association, more people are using public transit today than any time in the last 52 years, with a 38% increase in ridership since 1995. Public transit use in both urban and rural areas throughout Ohio increased 5% from 2007 – 2008 despite decreased state spending on transit service.

As local transit authorities continue to face budget shortfalls and with this big opportunity to jumpstart passenger rail, Ohio is at a critical juncture for redefining our transportation system. Like never before, we need to advocate for passenger rail and public transit. Contact Eileen Matias at ematias@neo.rr.com, or Enid Nagel atenidsierra@yahoo.com or 513-886-0333, to join the Ohio Chapter’s Transportation Committee.