COTA has begun taking steps toward an $8 billion, long-term construction plan to transform transportation needs forthe region’s future.
The 2050 initiative follows the $1.2 billion, five-year plan the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s board approved lastweek, CEO Joanna Pinkerton told Columbus Business First.
Staffpresented the long-term plan for the first time to COTA’s board of trustees.
Funding sources would include $6 billion in sales tax, $657 million in federal grants, $1.1 billion in debt and $275million in other revenue.
The plan includes constructing rapid transit corridors; creating a new regional funding source for sidewalks, bikeinfrastructure, greenways and other related roadway upgrades; and supporting service improvements, includingmore frequency and service hours, new routes, additional transit shelters and new transit facilities, according toCOTA.
“This is our staffacknowledging the growth, both from a population standpoint and an economic standpoint, inCentral Ohio and the need to address affordability … not only on the housing and cost-of-living side, but the mobilityoptions that are considered really first-class for a city of our size and for a region that’s growing so quickly,”Pinkerton said.
The multi-entity LinkUs transit initiative and comprehensive plan spearheaded by the city of Columbus, FranklinCounty, COTA and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission calls for high-capacity bus rapid transit, improvedintersections and additional fixed routes, micro-transit, sidewalks and bikeways.
“These are the things that we know will result in a safer experience for people and more access to jobs and housingand quality of life,” Pinkerton said. “Mobility has a huge impact on your lifestyle and your ability to have a healthy,long life. … These are new elements which may not have been connected in the past.”
Joanna M. Pinkerton, COTA
Voters will be asked, likely in 2024, to double COTA’s portion of local sales tax to 1% from 0.5%, bringing the totalsales tax in Franklin County to 8%.
COTA’s service area extends to portions of Union, Delaware, Licking and Fairfield counties, where voters also wouldbe asked to approve the increase.
The more immediate five-year capital plan, already approved, incorporates the agency’s traditional strategies:continue planning for bus rapid transit and other route development; expand electric charging infrastructure;improve vehicles, bus stop amenities and other facilities; and upgrade digital signage, software and othertechnology.
The $764.9 million development prong is the most costly. Of that, $723.4 million is for the continued design andconstruction of the LinkUs rapid transit corridor development plan. COTA estimates by 2030, the region will havethree high-capacity rapid-transit corridors, with more to come by 2050.
The agency announced a timetable for the corridors:
West Broad, a 9.3-mile project with dedicated bus guideways covering the majority of the corridor going fromdowntown Columbus to the Prairie Township Community Center. Utility and localized construction are to begin in2025 and station and roadway construction in 2026.
East Main, a 13.6-mile project with dedicated bus guideways covering the majority of the corridor going fromdowntown Columbus to a new development east of Taylor Road in Reynoldsburg. Utility and localizedconstruction are to begin in 2026 and station and roadway construction in 2027.
Northwest, extending from downtown Columbus along Spring/Long Street and Olentangy River Road, ending atBethel Road. Initial utility construction is to begin in 2027.
COTA trustees approved a Kimley-Horn design and construction support services contract for Sept. 1, 2023 throughDec. 31, 2029, for the East Main Street Corridor for an amount not to exceed $9 million during that time.
The remainder and bulk of the total $296.4 million cost will be for construction, including new bus rapid-transitstations, customer amenities, roadway improvements and alterations, right-of-way acquisition, traffic signalupgrades, sidewalk and bicycle connections, micro-mobility hubs, new buses and various other elements as part ofthe project, according to COTA.
Other items in the development portion of the improvements plan include a hydrogen fuel cell pilot program,connecting transit and mobility centers and the Rickenbacker Area Mobility Center with an attached daycare andfood pantry.
“We’re really going to be focusing on making sure that the development occurring, especially along the bus rapidtransit lines, is focused on … growth along those corridors,” said trustee Jennifer Gallagher.
The approved plan also includes $297 million for vehicles and equipment, including electric buses and zero-emissionvehicles. The effort started in 2020, and the last diesel buses will be phased out by 2025.
Additional purchases will include 60-foot buses for bus rapid transit services (current buses are 40-feet long) andvehicles for a hydrogen fuel cell program.