Recently, the Ohio legislature passed the state’s $7.6 billion biennial transportation budget, initiated by Governor Kasich and signed into law on April 1st. As usual, the budget neglects transportation options, with less than one percent going towards public transit and even less towards bikeable and walkable streets, electric vehicles, freight, and commuter rail.
For decades, nearly all of Ohio’s public resources for transportation have gone towards roads and highways. In fact, Ohio ranks 47th in the nation for commitment to public transit even though we are the 7th most populated state. This lopsided allocation of transportation resources has resulted in a car-centric system that promotes urban sprawl, robs our cities and town centers of their vitality, makes it nearly impossible to get by without a car, and promotes dependence on imported oil.
It’s a huge drain on the Economy. Ohioans spend roughly $20 billion each year to fuel our cars and trucks, equivalent to five percent of the state’s gross domestic product, 98 percent of which is imported from out of state or out of the country.
Younger generations are moving to vibrant, walkable communities with access to public transit, even if it means leaving the state.
It makes it difficult for low-income families, elderly people and people with disabilities to get to work, health care and retail centers. Nearly 9 percent of Ohio households have no access to a car.
Cars are expensive to own, operate and maintain, often prohibitively expensive for low-income families and may not be an option at all for elderly Ohioans and people with disabilities.
Nearly 1/4 of Ohio’s emissions come from the transportation sector. Too many cars and trucks are fuel inefficient and depend on polluting fossil fuels.
We are way past due for a smarter, more sustainable approach to Ohio’s transportation system. This is why I help convene the Ohioans for Transportation Choice—a diverse and growing network of environmental, anti-poverty, and transportation reform advocates across the state.
Over the past few months, we called on Ohio’s legislators and the Kasich administration to create a Transportation Choice fund within Ohio’s multi-billion transportation budget and to ramp up funding over time to 10 percent of the transportation budget.
We came close to getting the fund, but ultimately did not prevail.
1. Ohioans want more affordable, accessible, and environmentally-friendly transportation choices. It is a high priority for a diverse group of interests across the state, in both urban and rural areas.
2. Advocates for the environment and people with disabilities are leading efforts. Cycling enthusiasts, groups representing the poor, young professionals and college students are eager to help. Leaders and workers in Ohio’s cities, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit systems are also very supportive.
3. Locally-based transit and biking coalitions help encourage legislative champions and demand accountability for local legislators.
4. Supportive legislators come from both urban and rural communities. While we experienced little direct opposition to transportation choice among legislators, it was not a high priority for many. Most legislators were more concerned about how many highway dollars their district would get rather than whether those dollars could be used to invest in alternative transportation modes. Governor Kasich sums up the general sentiment about the transportation budget when he referred to it as a “highway bill.”
Our legislative champions for Transportation Choice—Representative Matt Lundy (D) from Elyria, Senator Nina Turner (D) from Cleveland, and Senator La Rose (R) from Copley—faced an uphill battle within their respective caucuses to make transportation choice a priority.
The truth is that it will likely take a tidal wave of public support to make transportation choice a priority. The good news is that the public support is out there to be tapped. Plus, younger legislators and staffers are more likely to get it.
That means the pendulum will eventually swing our way. The question is when? In order to achieve a game changing victory for transportation choice in Ohio’s next biennium transportation budget (Spring 2015), we should start doing the work now.
We spend billions of public dollars on transportation, but many legislators don’t fully understand their options on how the funds can be spent. Since the transportation budget moves very quickly through the legislature, limiting capacity to learn, we should begin the work of educating candidates in advance of the next budget.
There is also a gubernatorial election between now and the next budget. We should demand Ohio’s next Governor have a vision of a 21st century transportation system.