EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Leaders Should Rethink Planned Rail, Trail Systems

Ten days ago UrbanCincy sounded the alarm on the proposed Wasson Way Trail, and we feel that due to the large amount of feedback that further explanation is needed.

Tomorrow at 12pm, City Council’s Strategic Growth Committee will discuss the proposal that would turn the Wasson Corridor from a railroad right-of-way into a recreational trail. What UrbanCincy is urging City Council to require is a minimum of 28 feet worth of right-of-way preserved for future light rail use.

Standard designs for bi-directional light rail traffic require a minimum of 28 feet of right-of-way. Along some portions of the Wasson Corridor it may very well be possible to accommodate 28 feet for light rail, plus additional right-of-way for the proposed recreational trail, and in those segments it may make sense to get started.


Looking east as the Wasson Line crosses over Interstate 71. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

While there is no funding currently in place to build light rail along the Wasson Corridor, it would be short-sighted to remove one of the best rail transit corridors in the city. This was previously done on Cincinnati’s west side when an abandoned railway used by freight and passenger rail traffic was abandoned and then allowed to be built over and occupied by the Glenway Crossings retail center.

Allowing this to take place offered city and county leaders to reap the rewards of a short-term boost, but it has also created a situation that makes building light rail to Cincinnati’s western suburbs almost impossible. This same thing could happen to Cincinnati’s eastern suburbs should the Wasson Corridor be used by a recreational trail.

Proponents of the Wasson Way Trail project made it clear that many of the supporters also want to see light rail eventually happen, but that we should not wait until that day comes to improve the visual appearance of the corridor. Case studies from all over the United States show, however, that once a former rail line is converted into another use, it is almost always an impossible political task to take that land back for rail purposes.


2002 regional light rail plan for Cincinnati.

In the larger scheme of things, UrbanCincy believes that regional leaders need to take a step back and ask themselves why we are still discussing commuter rail along the Ohio River, and a recreational trail through densely populated city neighborhoods. The priorities should be reversed, and the Oasis Line along the Ohio River should be converted into a recreational trail while the Wasson Line is preserved for future light rail use.

It is estimated that the Wasson Light Rail Line would attract three times the number of riders than the Oasis Commuter Rail Line, while also being significantly less expensive to build and operate. Futhermore, when discussions were held about the Oasis Line, residents and property owners along the line voiced their opposition to such activity and have conversely expressed interest in seeing the railway converted into a recreational trail.

City and regional leaders should maintain the natural beauty of the Ohio River and turn the Oasis Line into an attractive recreational trail that can connect into existing trail networks to the east, and the Wasson Line should be preserved for light rail use in the future. It may seem frustrating to leave the Wasson Line in its current state of appearance, but it will be much more frustrating to jeopardize one of the best potential light rail corridors envisioned for the region.