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Light Rail In Columbus? COTA Identifies Three Potential Corridors For Expansion

COTA bus on Ohio State's campus.
Wikipedia Commons

Central Ohio may finally be ready for light or commuter rail, the region's transit authority says. COTA has been briefing the public on its "NextGen" effort, which looks to identify corridors that could support added service.

The NextGen study pinpointed 13 total corridors for possible expansion. Three of those routes could be light rail or commuter rail lines, but COTA administrators say it's still too early to tell which "mode" of transportation they would use.

"At this particular level of the study, we want to identify which corridors compete (for federal funding), and which modes are possible," says Michael Bradley, COTA's Vice President for Planning and Development.

Credit COTA
This graph by COTA shows which corridors it seems "possible today," "successful tomorrow," and "viable with growth."

Of the corridors that are "possible today," only one could be rail: a route along High Street from downtown to the far North Side near Interstate 270.

To qualify for federal funding, Bradley says, COTA projects have to meet certain criteria.

"Ridership, capital costs are real important to compete with the rest of the projects that are going on around the country," Bradley says. "There's only a limited number of projects that actually make it through each year."

Other potential rail corridors include downtown to the Polaris area on 3rd Street, and downtown to Newark. The downtown-to-Polaris line is listed as "successful tomorrow," and the downtown-to-Newark line is deemed "viable with growth."

Most of COTA's expansion would rely on traditional buses, or "bus rapid transit" vehicles, which are up to 60 feet long and usually articulated in the middle.

Though Central Ohioans have long heard about the possibility of light or commuter rail, including a few projects that have been nixed or wouldn't happen for years, Bradley says COTA has received public input about the need for alternative forms of transportation.

"By 2050, we're going to receive about another million people, residents, in the region, and our transit network and the system is going to have to evolve probably to larger vehicles to handle those more dense corridors," he says. "So we have to look at alternatives. I don't know when we will get each or any of those modes, but I know it will come some day."

Bradley says much of the expansion depends on the viability for federal funding, but local funding is on the table, as well. He says that brings the benefit of more flexibility and fewer restrictions on how money is spent.