Monday, April 09, 2007

LMJ: "Commuter rail to Cleveland gains support"

Great article from the Lorain Morning Journal this morning regarding the Lorain-Cleveland Commuter Rail proposal working its way through various processes.

Commuter rail to Cleveland gains support
MEGAN KING, Morning Journal Writer

The train station at Black River Landing in Lorain is waiting for a train.

So is the historic station built near SR 60 in Vermilion.

Area officials hope these stations will one day be stops along a commuter rail that will take passengers from Erie and Lorain counties to Cleveland -- revitalizing the area's economy and improving the environment in the process.

Officials have been in discussions for years to create a commuter rail ranging from Lorain to Cleveland, and west to Sandusky. In February, the Lorain County commissioners requested $3 million in federal funding to study the project.

''We have a station, we have a location, and we are waiting for the train to come,'' said Vermilion Mayor Jean Anderson, noting that there are up to 100 acres nearby that could be developed as a result. The Vermilion station is being restored by a group of citizens, including Coletta Kubik and Diane Chestnut.

Rick Novak, executive director of the Lorain Port Authority, said Lorain also wants to be prepared for commuter rail.

According to preliminary maps of the project, the commuter rail, which would use some existing train tracks, would run from Lorain to Cleveland, although there has been discussion of extending it west to Vermilion and Sandusky.

Some potential stops have been considered at East Erie and Broadway in Lorain, on Lake Breeze Road in Sheffield Lake, SR 83 at the Avon/Avon Lake border, Columbia Road in Westlake near the existing Park and Ride, Depot Street in Rocky River, St. Charles and Belle Avenue in Lakewood, and the central business district area of Cleveland, according to the northeast Ohio Commuter Rail Feasibility study.

Though Ken Prendergast, director of communications and research for All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit group that promotes public transit and rail service, said the maps are preliminary and stops could change.

Several communities have already expressed interest commuter rail, including Lakewood, Westlake, Rocky River, Vermilion, Cleveland, Lorain and the Lorain Port Authority. Avon Lake City Council is considering a resolution of support.

Prendergast said bringing commuter rail to the area will spur economic development and job growth.

''This is all about jobs access,'' Prendergast said. ''Lorain is not a wealthy community. If they are able to afford to get jobs in other areas, that can only improve their economic situation.''

Prendergast said commuters could travel to work on a commuter train for one-third the cost of driving to work, and the extra money that both businesses and homes save could be put back into the economy.

He said studies of the greater Cleveland area show people spend more on transportation costs than they do housing.

''Any time you see that in a metropolitan area, you know that metropolitan area is in trouble.''

Population growth in cities, he said, mainly comes from emigrants who tend to settle in cities where transportation costs are low and they can easily get to their jobs.

''It's very difficult for emigrants to gain wealth and equity when they're putting a lot of their paychecks into a depreciable asset like a car,'' Prendergast said.

Prendergast estimates that a two-year demonstration period for the commuter rail could cost up to $50 million, including a ''quiet zone'' that would limit train horns.

Prendergast said the project would most likely require state funding, as the federal highway trust fund is expected to be running a deficit in the next five years. He said tax increment financing from development near the stations could also provide a funding mechanism.

Prendergast said a diesel-powered light rail line between Camden and Trenton, N.J., which runs for about 30 miles, runs light rail transit during the day and freight trains at night.

''It's an innovative system, and they used TIFs to pay the local share.''

Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair said she hopes investments will be made into the project and public transit, noting that Ohio spends only $1.34 per person per year on public transit and neighboring states spend as much as $60 per person.

''You get what you pay for, and I think it's time we paid a little more toward transit and/or rail. We could use both both, especially in Lorain County.''

Blair, a longtime supporter of commuter rail, said there have been a variety of meetings held on the topic with much interest from area communities, including those in Cuyahoga County.

She said the community must decide whether commuter rail is worth the investment.

''Let's weigh it evenly with what you pay for concrete and potholes and traffic jams and things like that,'' Blair said. ''Let's make it a fair assessment.''

Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan said a commuter rail would be a significant boost to Erie County's economy. He said it would promote movement of people not only between Erie County and Cleveland, but also Erie County and Lorain County.

''It's kind of like Jet Express when it drops off 200 passengers at Kelleys Island or Put-in-Bay,'' Monaghan said. ''That's what I could see with a big rail line coming into Sandusky. You'd drop off 200 or 300 shoppers or 200 or 300 people who want to go to our water parks or one of our great restaurants.''

Novak said the rail would also bring economic development and jobs to Lorain.

''Any time you have a train station, there's development within a quarter mile of the track,'' Novak said.

The city is also trying to encourage development in the immediate area of the track to promote density near the proposed station, such as through the HarborWalk homes that are nearby.

''A lot of the issues that we have in Lorain could be overcome if we had a commuter rail and it would really spur a lot of development.''

Preliminary studies show a ride from Lorain to Cleveland could take about 35 minutes and cost $5. According to 2006 AAA studies, the average cost of driving is 56 cents per mile, which would be about $30 round trip from Lorain to Cleveland.

''I think that would be a cost-savings to many people,'' Novak said.

Novak said downtown Cleveland would benefit from needing less space for parking and having more acreage available for development and other uses.

He said it is difficult to estimate a timetable for when commuter rail could become a reality, but support from the community would help push it forward.

Residents said they thought the commuter train would benefit the area if it was convenient for residents.

While, Steve Misch of Avon said he would not use the commuter rail, as he uses his truck on the job, ''For people that work in an office, it'd be a great thing.''

Avon Lake resident John Brockschmitt said he believes residents would only use the commuter rail if it were convenient to where the jobs are located.

''If you're going to use mass transit, it needs to go to where people work.''

Although the project would use existing track and some train stations, the project still needs to go through engineering and planning and find funding.

In the past, the project had been opposed by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Lakewood) who objected to the plan because he had worked out a deal to limit train traffic in some lakeshore communities to 14 trains per day instead of the 40 that Norfolk Southern railroad wanted.

Kucinich's offices in Washington, D.C. and Lakewood could not be reached for comment Friday.

Local officials hope the train project will continue full-steam ahead.

Anderson said she hopes to see a commuter rail within two years.

''I really think it is a great goal, and I think transportation is essential for northern Ohio. It's really essential for all of Ohio."

Here is the contact information for Congressman Kucinich:

Lakewood Office

14400 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

Phone (216)228-8850
Fax (216)228-6465

Parma Office

Parmatown Mall
7904 Day Drive
Parma, Ohio 44129

Phone (440)845-2707
Fax (440)845-2743

Washington Office

2445 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Phone (202)225-5871
Fax (202)225-5745

To Contact Him Electronically


Anonymous said...

I am sure that Ohio could go years without improving their highways and they would still be better than Pennsylvania's. Fixing the Inner Belt is a waste of time and money and will never address the reality of Ohio. People are leaving. Why? Its just not pleasant anymore when it becomes impossible to get around without a car, and I think a lot of people feel alienated by such a mentality.

The choice here is obvious. Either Ohio gets with the program and starts bringing back passenger rail, or it will be inherently screwed as even New Mexico now has commuter rail.

Have you SEEN Elyria's Amtrak station? It is a disgrace to humanity. Only psychos like me ride Amtrak in Ohio because this is a battle worth fighting for.