CHART: The Best and Worst States in America for Transit Funding

According to data from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA), the State of Ohio provides some of the least amount of funding for its regional transit authorities of any state in America.

Texas, Georgia and Missouri also provide next to nothing to their various regional transit agencies, but in no other state are transit agencies as reliant on fares and local taxes as they are in the Buckeye State.

When broadening the search to examine transit agencies in the biggest cities across America, it also becomes clear that states like Pennsylvania, Utah and Maryland, Minnesota and Massachusetts invest large amounts of state dollars in transit. Some transit agencies with little state support, however, receive larger sums of money from regional transit taxes and federal aid.

Source of American Transit Funding

Ohio’s three largest metropolitan regions – all with more than two million people – are different in this regard and have the least diverse range of financial support of transit agencies nationwide. For both Columbus and Cleveland, it means that well over 90% of their total revenues come from fares and local tax dollars, while in Cincinnati it is slightly better at 84% thanks to a bit more federal aid.

“In the recession we saw transit service cut while gas prices drove transit demand to record levels,” stated Akshai Singh, an Ohio Sierra Club representative with the advocacy organization Ohio for Transportation Choice. “Roughly all of the state’s public transportation funding now goes to operating rural transit services.”

Honolulu is the only other region in the United States that has 90% or more of its funds coming from just fares and local tax dollars. Cities in other states providing next to nothing also approach this threshold, but do not exceed it as is the case in Ohio.

It recently reported that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, when compared to 11 peer agencies across the country. One of the key findings from Agenda 360 report was how little state financial support SORTA receives.

Part of the problem in Ohio is due to state cuts that have reduced funding for public transportation by 83% since 2000. Those cuts have forced transit agencies in the nation’s seventh most populous state to reduce service and increase fares over the past decade.

According to All Aboard Ohio, the state only provides approximately 1% of its transportation budget to transit, while more than 9% of the state’s population lives without a car.

In addition to regional transit, Ohio continues to be one of the most hostile states in terms of inter-city passenger rail. The state remains almost untouched by Amtrak’s national network and boasts the nation’s most densely populated corridor – Cincinnati to Cleveland – without any inter-city passenger rail service.

“When Governor Kasich came to office, the first thing he did was send back $400 million in federal dollars, for the 3C Corridor, on the basis that operations and maintenance would have been too onerous on the state,” Singh concluded. “Today, ODOT is allocating $240 million to build a $331 million, 3.5-mile highway extension through a 40% carless neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, a staggering $100 million per mile new capacity road, while openly acknowledging they are reducing access for local residents.”

Episode #7: Politicization of Transportation

On the seventh episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Angie Schmitt of Rust Wire and StreetsBlog joins the UrbanCincy team to discuss what happens when transportation investments become highly politicized. We discuss Representative Steve Chabot’s attempt to block federal funding for light rail and “fixed guideway” projects in Cincinnati; Governor John Kasich’s rejection of federal funding for the 3C Corridor high-speed rail project; and Hamilton County’s efforts to block sewer upgrades contemporaneous with the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

We also discuss the discrepancy in transportation funding between rural and urban areas. While new rural highway interchanges are funded throughout Ohio, urban highway projects such as I-75 through Cincinnati and the Brent Spence Bridge project are delayed for a lack of funding.

Photo of ODOT TRAC board members by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Show Links:

Will Ohio be left empty-handed when it comes to new $53B high speed rail plan?

Last week President Obama announced a bold $53 billion plan for high speed rail. The investment is proposed to take place over the next six years as part of the transportation reauthorization bill. If successful, President Obama (D) would place himself among the likes of Eisenhower and FDR in terms of infrastructure legacies.

Long-term, President Obama’s administration hopes to connect 80 percent of Americans with high speed rail within 25 years, but what does that mean for Ohio whose governor recently gave away a $400 million federal investment for such a system?

Well, what immediately is clear is that Ohio has gone from one of the nation’s leaders in high speed rail, to one of the last adopters in the matter of a few months. What may also be true going forward is hesitancy for the federal government to invest in high speed rail in Ohio while Governor Kasich (R) is in office – thus pushing Ohio further behind in the race to “win the future” and develop a nation-wide system of high speed rail.

“The Obama Administration understands that in order to win the future and grow America’s economy over the long-term, we must modernize our national transportation network,” said Secretary LaHood said in a prepared release. “We’re committed to repairing our existing infrastructure and building new ways to move people, goods and information around so we can strengthen our communities and our economy.”

The federal investment would provide money for both new infrastructure and critical maintenance and upgrades for existing intercity rail corridors. With Ohio boasting one of the best-suited corridors in the nation for intercity rail, but still lacking any existing intercity rail, it creates the possibility of the state receiving absolutely nothing from the $53 billion investment thanks to the decision by Governor Kasich to give away the original $400 million investment in intercity rail between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.

For perspective, over the past 50 years, the federal government has spent more than $400 billion building the interstate highway system.

“A national high-speed rail system is not only an opportunity to redefine how we travel and how our regional economies grow,” said Reconnecting America President and CEO John Robert Smith. “It represents the type of innovation and progress that can secure a better future for our grandchildren.”

With the addition of 100 million citizens by 2050, Smith asserts that the nation needs new infrastructure that has the ability to move more people in more places and at higher speeds.

Reconnecting America research has found that investments between Harrisburg, PA, and Philadelphia have increased speeds to 110 mph, and the corridor has seen rail ridership rise by 57 percent. The corridor, Reconnecting America says, now boasts more passengers traveling by rail than by plane.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association to host happy hour discussion in Cincinnati

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association will be meeting in Cincinnati on Wednesday, January 26 at Arnold’s Bar & Grill.  The meeting will take place from 6pm to 8pm and reportedly will include an “informal discussion” about high-speed rail led by executive director Rick Harnish.

The event is free and open to the public, but food and drink will not be provided by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.  Food and drink will however be available for purchase from Arnold’s.

Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP online or by emailing mailto: Mark@MidwestHSR.org, but anyone is encouraged to show up at the time of the event and join the conversation.  Arnold’s Bar & Grill is located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati at 210 East 8th Street.

3C Rail not dead yet according to All Aboard Ohio leaders

Throughout his campaign for governor, Governor-Elect John Kasich (R) repeatedly stated that he had no intention of ever moving forward with the 3C Rail project, a train that would have connected Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. So with Secretary LaHood’s announcement on Thursday that the $400 million for the 3C rail project was being taken away, he made Kasich’s campaign promise of “the train is dead” a reality, right?

Well, All Aboard Ohio, an advocacy group for inter-city travel in Ohio, is saying otherwise. In fact, in a press release they stated that the Dept. of Transportation is moving prematurely in redirecting the funds.

“Until grant agreements with the new state recipients have been signed, we don’t consider this a done deal,” said All Aboard Ohio President Bill Hutchison, noting that it often takes months to finalize such agreements.

With just under a month left in the term of Governor Ted Strickland (D), the nonprofit believes there is still time to act.

“We are calling for an open, honest dialogue between Governor Strickland, Governor-Elect Kasich and potential 3C partners to consider an alternative that could be instituted within the same time frame ODOT was expected to move forward with 3C,” said Hutchison.

Ironically, Thursday’s announcement came only hours after a plan to pursue the 3C project without state involvement was released. Created by All Aboard Ohio and others, the plan calls for the creation of a Joint Powers Authority (JPA). If created, the JPA would consist of local governments and transit authorities which could then grant a franchise to a private group who would operate the rail service. The group would finance the project through, among other things, revenue generated by station leases, food service, and advertising.

“With looming threats of unprecedented global oil shortages by 2015, the Baby Boom generation starting to turn 65 years old in 2011 and young Ohioans leaving for states that don’t force them to drive everywhere, now is not the time for Ohio leaders to let this money slip away,” Hutchison concluded.