The COTA Board of Trustees voted this morning to approve a series of resolutions aimed at advancing the LinkUs initiative, a plan to build new transit corridors and greatly expand the region’s transportation options.
Design work has already started on three new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, and two of them – nearly nine miles of improvements along West Broad Street and about 13 miles along East Main Street – are already in the grant pipeline for the Federal Transit Authority’s Capital Investment Grants Program.
The resolutions allocate funding for consultants to continue that design work, and to take the next step in the federal grant process for the West Broad Street corridor, which would be the first one constructed if the federal money is secured.
In order to secure that federal grant, though, a local funding match is required – those funds would be generated by a planned 0.5% sales tax increase.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority and its LinkUs partners decided not to put the levy on the ballot in 2022, but are now committed to bringing the sales tax increase to voters in November 2024.
The board also approved a new Short Range Transit Plan, a five-year Capital Improvements Program, and a new agreement with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) to administer and direct funding toward the LinkUs projects classified as “transit supportive infrastructure,” such as bike lanes, trails and sidewalks.
“As a board we’re excited because several of the resolutions mark policies that bring together the administrative side of how we can execute the LinkUs strategy,” said board president Marlon Moore. “The COTA leadership team has put together a plan that is fiscally responsible and meets the needs of all of those in the community…it’s just the next step in beginning to bring together what we think is an effective mobility solution for generations to come.”
COTA officials told Columbus Underground that the overall LinkUs plan that was first outlined in the spring of 2022 – which called for five new “high capacity transit” corridors in addition to major investments in improving the existing bus system and building out better bike and pedestrian infrastructure – is still being pursued, and that the board’s actions today will help to ensure that the agency is ready to start implementing the plan after voters weigh in on the sales tax question next year.
In total, about $8 billion would be generated and allocated toward transportation improvements through the year 2050, with the sales tax accounting for about $6 billion of that total. The money raised by the tax would be leveraged to attract about $650 million in federal funding, and to buy bonds that would generate additional funds.
COTA’s latest estimate is that the West Broad corridor will cost just under $340 million to complete – with about $235 million of that coming from federal funds – while the East Main corridor will cost nearly $330 million.
As for a timeline, if the tax increase is approved and the federal funding secured, initial right-of-way and utility work could start on the West Broad corridor as soon as 2025. Construction of the stations and roadway would then start in 2026, with a projected public opening some time in 2028. Work on the East Main corridor would start roughly a year later, followed by the Northwest Corridor, which would run along Olentangy River Road from Downtown to Bethel Road (and eventually to Bridge Park in Dublin).
BRT is often described as a transit alternative that can deliver some of the amenities associated with light rail – dedicated lanes, easy boarding at stations, fast and frequent service – without the higher cost and longer construction time of rail projects.
The LinkUs initiative itself grew out of a planning effort called Insight 2050, which made the case that the region could slow sprawl and accommodate much of its projected growth by building out high-capacity transit corridors and encouraging new housing and job centers to be built along them. A concurrent effort by the City of Columbus to reform its zoning code is also underway.
In order to build awareness of the LinkUs initiative in advance of the vote, a new website was recently launched with updated information about each corridor, and the first of a series of videos was released explaining the project.
For more information, see linkuscolumbus.com.