News Politics Transportation

EXCLUSIVE: ODOT Expected to Announce Major Shift to ‘Fix-it-First’ Policy

While Ohio’s gas taxes and population have remained flat over the past decade, the Ohio Department of Transportation has continued to add capacity to roadways across the state – in some cases even building entirely new roadways to add to the state’s existing infrastructure. This may all soon be ready to change in what is being called a “major” policy shift in Columbus.

According to employees at ODOT who were briefed at an internal meeting on the matter recently, the nation’s seventh-largest state is poised to announce in the coming months that the days of roadway expansion are over. Instead they say that ODOT will embrace a future focused on maintenance and preservation of its existing network of more than 43,000 miles of roads and 14,000 bridges.

While officials say the move is economically driven, it also comes at a time as activists around the country – including numerous cities throughout Ohio – are increasingly calling for governments to embrace a “fix-it-first” policy.

An increasing number of states have been adopting such policies, with Michigan being one of the first when it enacted its Preserve First program in 2003, and California being the largest when it joined the fray last year.

The forthcoming announcement from ODOT, however, goes a step further than that.

In addition to focusing funds on maintenance and preservation, ODOT officials also say that they will abandon their “worst first” approach to fixing existing roadways. In doing so they say that the new program, called the Transportation Asset Management Plan, can save the state an estimated $300 million over the next six years – money that can then be redirected to other preservation activities like cleaning, sweeping, sealing and micro-surfacing.

The idea here, similar to healthcare or household maintenance, is that it is often much more economical to make steady improvements rather than waiting to make repairs until the asset is too far gone.

“It’s finally sinking in that we cannot continue on this unsustainable pace of highway expansion,” said an ODOT employee who spoke to UrbanCincy on the conditions of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

According to ODOT’s own internal estimates, current funds will not be enough to maintain Ohio’s existing system by 2019 – the time when the Ohio Turnpike bonds are gone. Thus, without a major new source of revenue like a gas tax increase, ODOT intends to completely get out of the highway expansion business, and shift all funds to maintenance and rehabilitation.

“Most projects will occur before a road becomes severely compromised, and will be based around maximizing the service life of a particular road,” the ODOT staffer continued. “Long story short, ODOT isn’t going to waste its money on patching up a road as a temporary fix that will simply deteriorate again quickly because of major structural problems.”

There is no clear idea as to whether highway expansion projects currently on the drawing board will be impacted by this, but it appears likely that they will unless they receive capital funding through TRAC prior to 2019.

Such news could be damning for projects like the recently proposed Eastern Bypass or what is left of the Eastern Corridor project. At the same time, it could be the positive jolt needed for projects like the Western Hills Viaduct, which is in desperate need of an estimated $280 million fix.

Development News Transportation

Cincinnati Aims to Break Ground on Next Phase of Ohio River Trail in June 2017

City officials are advancing the designs for the next phase of the Ohio River Trail. The 2.2-mile segment will run from Salem Road to Sutton Road in Cincinnati’s California neighborhood on its eastern riverfront.

Project and community leaders are excited about the work because it will fill in a gap in the Ohio River Trail that will eventually stretch 23 miles from Coney Island on the east to Sayler Park on the west. The project will also represent an approximate 50% increase in the number of completed miles of the Ohio River Trail.

While designs are still being finalized, city officials presented a conceptual design and the preferred alignment with the public at an open house held on March 25.

The designs call for a shared use, asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians that is 12 feet wide. There would be a six-foot setback from the road, and the path would essentially function as an extra wide sidewalk in order to avoid taking any right-of-way away from automobiles.

The preferred alignment for the shared trail would run along the eastern side of Kellogg Avenue and go through the California Woods Nature Preserve. The pathway would pass underneath I-275 at the foot of the Combs-Hehl Bridge.

Project officials say that they will take feedback given during the recent open house into consideration when developing final designs, and formulate construction cost estimates. The next public meeting will take place in October.

If all goes according to plan, detailed design work will be complete by October 2016 and construction will begin in June 2017.

Up To Speed

What is the future of cities where driverless cars rule?

What is the future of cities where driverless cars rule?.

I met Jonathan Geeting in Salt Lake City during the Congress for the New Urbanism annual conference. We were roommates during which we both participated in a training session led by Streetsblog, for which UrbanCincy is a long-time partner, and studied the city’s transportation while also taking part in the conference. During that conference Jon also filed daily reports for Next City, and has become an increasingly popular writer there.

Jon’s latest piece, which is quite excellent, is this week’s feature story, and it examines what a not-so-distant world might be like for cities when driverless cars are the norm. What might it mean for jobs, parking supply, sprawl or mobility, and when might it all come to fruition? Some of the possibilities may surprise you. More from Next City:

The driverless, or more accurately, self-driving car is widely predicted to revolutionize mobility by knocking humans out of the driver’s seat as soon as 2030. The technology offers the possibility of infinitely safer travel. Human error — a mistimed turn, a heavy foot on the gas pedal or any one of countless other driver mishaps — caused or contributed to more than 90 percent of car collisions, according to a landmark study done by Indiana University. With automated acceleration, braking technologies and crash-avoidance technology, driverless cars could make highways exponentially less deadly.

Yet there is another opportunity at stake: The chance to dramatically reshape the relationship between public space and the car. For the last 100 years, urban planners have designed cities to accommodate personal vehicles. Every home comes with a driveway or curb for your car. Asphalt seas of parking spaces or costly multistory garages surround schools, shops and office buildings like carbon-spewing moats. What if instead of driving our own cars, we relied on 21st-century carpools — sharable autonomous vehicles?

Up To Speed

California approves $7.9B for high-speed rail

California approves $7.9B for high-speed rail.

The California state Senate approved billions of dollars for what is considered to be the nation’s largest infrastructure project on Friday. Part of the nearly $8 billion of state and federal money comes from Ohio since most of the $400 million Governor John Kasich (R) returned to the federal government was redirected to California’s project. More from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The cost of the high-speed rail line – now estimated at $68 billion – has ballooned since voters approved the bonds four years ago, and public support for the bullet train has fallen as projected costs rose. The high-speed system would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with trains expected to run as fast as 220 mph.

Business Development News

New state-of-the-art UV water treatment facility to be powered by the sun

The City of Cincinnati and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) broke ground earlier this month on a $30 million state-of-the-art Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection Treatment Facility. The 19,600 square-foot facility, which is being built at the Richard Miller Treatment Plant on Kellogg Avenue, will make GCWW the largest water utility in North America to use UV disinfection following sand filtration and Granular Activated Carbon absorption.

UV disinfection does not use chemicals or produce significant levels of regulated disinfection by-products. Sand filtration removes larger particles from source water while GAC removes organic substances such as pharmaceuticals.

“We have spent the past 10 years conducting research with national and international groups to determine the best method to protect our customers from microorganisms that are resistant to chlorine disinfection,” said David Rager, GCWW director. “UV disinfection uses UV light, in low doses, to inactivate disease-causing organisms often found in water effluents that can end up in our source water.”

Officials say that in an effort to reduce GCWW’s carbon footprint, the new facility will include 160 solar panels. When paired with a second solar installation on an existing GCWW facility, significant environmental impacts are expected to be achieved annually:

  • 28,100 gallons of gasoline emissions offset– equivalent to offsetting emissions of 48 cars
  • 346,000 Kwh of energy – enough to power 33 homes
  • $151,000 in electricity costs

The UV disinfection treatment project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. GCWW did receive rebates of approximately $150,000 from the State of Ohio for solar energy initiatives.

“Cincinnati has some of the best drinking water in the country and we are going to make it better,” Mayor Mark Mallory said. “This state-of-the-art new treatment facility illustrates the City’s commitment to continuous improvement. Our goal is to be on the cutting edge providing the cleanest, safest, tastiest drinking water in the country.”