In a June 2014 interview with GCBL, Northeast Ohio’s top transportation official, Grace Gallucci, promised sweeping reforms and a new era of fiscal responsibility at NOACA. A former budget director at RTA, Gallucci said that the region needs to align its priorities with the rest of the country’s. Job one would be to bring existing roads into a state of good repair.
The 5-county agency overseeing $40 million a year in road and bridge work, NOACA in recent times has invested heavily in expanding the region’s roadways. Since taking the top spot in 2012, Gallucci has also helmed VibrantNEO—a groundbreaking effort to provided data on the present and future cost of sprawl, but also, point to an alternative path.
It was with great expectation, then, that NOACA’s 2015 funding plan—released last week—would reveal how the agency plans to address sprawl. How will it connect funding, for example, with a regional priority to shorten distances between jobs, schools, homes, stores and parks?
An initial scan of the NOACA budget for the four years from 2016 to 2019 reveals some signs. As Gallucci promised, the agency will have a dedicated “fix-it-first” budget of $2.88 million annually or 7% of the total. The fund for “preventive maintenance” will presumably not be used to expand or widen roads.
Currently, 50 percent of NOACA’s annual budget is used for fixing roads without adding capacity, Gallucci said. “But all of it could be approved for road widening and new roads.”
NOACA’s new Strategic Plan—with its emphasis on sustainability—has created an expectation that opportunities for multi-modal transportation will expand. Gallucci’s goal is to eventually shift 25% of NOACA’s budget to “fix it first” which is often taken for improving conditions for walking, biking and transit.
Transit will also get a boost from NOACA which is working with RTA on a funding request of $46 million that would cover a broad range of needed upgrades and improvements to the regional transit system. In particular, RTA wants to fix its much-maligned fare collection box. It would also commit part of the grant request to upgrading the E. 34th Street Red Line station, which was being rumored for closure, to be ADA compliant.
In a separate request, RTA asked for a $9 million grant to expand its Paratransit service.
Also, making good on its collaboration with the entire northern tier of Ohio, NOACA formally asked the state’s Department of Transportation for $938,000 to improve the passenger rail line between Toledo and Cleveland. (This amid news that high speed rail money is in place from Chicago to Indiana on the west and from New York to Erie on the east).
NOACA also set aside $1.5 million annually for lighting upgrades; $2 million annually to fix bridges; and another $1.8 million for pavement markings. NOACA could count that in the fix-it-first ledger, but will have to find a way to create a pipeline for projects—such as LED street lights and road diets—that improve the performance of local roads.
How all of these small budget items fit into the bigger picture of creating a sustainable transportation system, David Beach points out, will come through a policy discussion underway at NOACA about performance metrics. Setting a target to reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) or carbon emissions could be what elevates goals above aspirations, just as the needed first step of policy reform for fix it first led to dedicated funding; good projects need space to grow.