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"The trends suck" and other reasons why Northeast Ohio needs to shift its priority

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/02/16 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

$12.2 billion is the ballpark Northeast Ohio will be playing in for transportation in the coming 20 years.

Grace Gallucci, Executive Director of NOACA, the agency overseeing that investment, made a few observations yesterday at its first public meeting on the region’s Long Range Transportation Plan. Gallucci offered that transportation has a lot to do with the shape a region finds itself in.

<br />If we follow current trends, Northeast Ohio will have more of this.

“We should put forth a vision of how we want the region to look,” Gallucci said.

That spurred a number of responses that share a common theme: NOACA can shift more funding to fix its current roads and improve access to travel modes other than a single-occupant vehicle.

“The problem is, our investments have been following these trends,” said David Beach, Director of GreenCityBlueLake. Beach was referring to forecasts like the Ohio Department of Development's which has prioritized new roads and highways leading from population centers like Cuyahoga County. “But the trends suck. We need a very different reality. One that recognizes climate change. And then we need to reprogram our transportation system to meet it.”

The region will continue to experience a curve up in demand for transportation alternatives as it ages, says William Tarter, Jr. with The Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland. It should be more responsive to shifts as they happen, like Millennials moving to walkable, bike friendly and transit connected places.

“Demographic data points to seniors and young people driving less and taking transit more,” Tarter said. “It suggests that we shift funding to other modes.”

Even if NOACA changes priority, the agency will still be the tail wagging the dog with only 9.5% of the total transportation dollars spent in the region. The rest is up to the state of Ohio to decide.

“How much can NOACA influence this trend if state funding favors highways?” asked Cleveland Heights City Councilwoman, Mary Dunbar. “We have enough highways. It’s ridiculous. We need to maintain what we’ve got.”

NOACA Director of Planning, Kathy Sarli noted that 34% of the region’s 1,755 lane miles of roads are currently not in a State of Good Repair.

“Even if we spend every penny in the next 20 years, we still wouldn’t fix all of the roads,” Sarli said. NOACA estimates it will cost $1.5 billion to bring all of the region’s roads into a State of Good Repair.

Gallucci suggested that if Northeast Ohio wants to grow its multi modal options, it may have to generate new revenue, possibly through local taxes.

“If we wanted to seek new funding like Denver did in building out its light rail system, we could account for it,” Gallucci said

NOACA follows a formula that budgets $2.9 million of its $47.4 million annual budget for Transportation Alternatives.

How much of the largest “pot” of NOACA’s funding, the annual $29 million Surface Transportation Program, can be “flexed” to other modes such as transit? asked Akshai Singh.

“A lot,” answered Gallucci.

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority CEO Joe Calabrese also wanted the state to up its participation in local transportation.

“Many states provide, and Ohio used to provide, part of the local match for transit,” said Calabrese, who has noted previously how Ohio’s contribution to local transit ranks near last in the nation. “Ohio has used capital grants -- (Turnpike) toll credits -- to pay for transit projects like the trolley service during the RNC.”

Cuyahoga County provides a 1-cent sales tax to transit that will raise an estimated $1.2 Billion locally for the next 20 years. NOACA estimates that the state will contribute $1.4 billion in that time.

“This (lack of current state funding) shouldn’t limit the region,” observed Gallucci. “The region supplies a lot of economic output in the state. Transportation is a key component to continue that. We generate a lot of taxes that go to Columbus and to Washington. We need to help ODOT by articulating a vision that leads to better collaboration. We need them to participate.”

“The Long Range Transportation Plan really does affect how we live,” Gallucci concluded. “It needs to reflect what the region wants.”

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Lee Batdorff
1 year ago

Thank you for this report giving details on how much transportation tax money NOACA distributes compared to amount distributed by the State of Ohio. A majority of NOACA's Board of Directors represent communities in the outer counties and the out fringe of Cuyahoga County. No one from this group is quoted here. Are they happy with this status?

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