Monday, October 17, 2011

Public Meetings on Proposed WestShore Corridor Transportation Project Plan

GREATER CLEVELAND – In the near future, residents, regional visitors and commuter could have safe, convenient new options for travel between major points in Erie, Lorain and Cuyahoga Counties including commuter bus and rail, according to planners on the WestShore Transportation Project. However, new local funding sources must be identified, further studies undertaken, and railroad and intercounty agreements inked before a major new service like commuter rail service is ready to operate.

On behalf of project co-sponsors Lorain County Board of Commissioners/Lorain County Transit and Lorain County Community Alliance, the WestShore Commuter Rail Task Force and communities in Lorain County, Erie County and Cuyahoga County, will hold three public meetings to present study findings to-date for recommended travel options, costs, benefits and funding/financing for the WestShore Corridor.  Public comments are needed in order to finalize the proposed package of options designed to improve longer-distance public transit service between the WestShore counties of Erie, Lorain and Cuyahoga.

The public is invited and encouraged to attend one or more of the following meetings:

Cuyahoga County—October 24, 2011               
Lakewood City Hall                                   
12650 Detroit Avenue                               
Lakewood, OH 44107                               
6-8 pm                                                   

Lorain County—October 26, 2011
Black River Landing
421 Black River Lane
Lorain, OH 44052
6-8 pm

Erie County -- October 25, 2011
Erie County Administration Building
3rd Floor Commissioner’s Chambers
2900 Columbus Avenue
Sandusky, OH 44870
6-8 pm

For more information, please contact Tim Rosenberger, PB at 216-832-2952, Nancy Lyon Stadler, Michael Baker, Jr., Inc. at 216-776-6814 or Marissa Beechuk, BrownFlynn at
440-484-0100, ext.211.



The WestShore Corridor Transportation Project (WCTP) seeks to address the lack of public transportation options for travel in the WestShore Corridor, which extends from downtown Cleveland through western Cuyahoga, Lorain, and Erie Counties to Sandusky. The need for improvements is based on several factors including a lack of public transit options for inter-county travel, lack of transit options within Lorain and Erie Counties, and the need for more sustainable land use patterns in suburban growth areas.

While the development of commuter rail service along the Norfolk Southern (former Nickel Plate) rail line that passes through Lakewood, Bay Village and much of northern Lorain County has been the goal for many citizens and political leaders in the WestShore Corridor, the analysis conducted for the WCTP indicates that a transit market must first be established within the WestShore Corridor before commuter rail can become a reality. Currently, commuter bus services to downtown Cleveland operate from Medina, Summit, Portage and Lake counties. Lorain County is the most populous county surrounding Cleveland that does not have bus service to downtown Cleveland. The WCTP suggests that an inter-county transit market could be established in several phases.

In Phase 1, during the next five years, would include implementation of commuter bus service between Lorain County and downtown Cleveland.  The proposed service would include basic commuter bus service between the city of Lorain and downtown Cleveland with stops at Black River Landing, Midway Mall, and two new park and ride lots located in Sheffield and Avon. In this phase, Lorain County Transit would be restored to its pre-2009 service levels to distribute passengers throughout Lorain County. 

Implementing this service would cost approximately $11 million per year in buying buses and outfitting park-and-ride lots in Lorain County. The annual estimated annual operating cost of Phase 1 is $8.3 million. While commuter bus service is made operational, work would continue on the analysis of the benefits and environmental impacts of the commuter rail service to allow for that service to be developed in the future. Discussions with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad about use of their rail line for commuter rail service began as part of the West Shore study, and would continue through the first phase of development. 

In Phase 2 (Years 6-10), commuter bus service in Lorain County would expand, and commuter bus service between Erie County and downtown Cleveland would begin. In this phase two new bus routes would be started to supplmenet the route operating between Lorain and downtown Cleveland. One new route would operate between Sheffield and downtown Cleveland, with one park and ride lot located in Sheffield and two in Avon. A third commuter bus route would begin providing service between Sandusky and downtown Cleveland, with stops at park and ride facilities located in Sandusky, Huron, and Vermilion. 

The estimated cost of this second phase of service would be about $16 million for additional buses and park and ride lot, and about $10 million in additional annual operating cost. 

Also in this phase, regional transit officials would complete the analysis of commuter rail service and reach an agreement with the Norfolk Southern railroad regarding use of their rail line, and would begin the design of improvements to the rail line, stations and other infrastructure needed to operate commuter rail service.
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In Phase 3 (Years 10-15), commuter rail service would begin operation and would replace some or all of the commuter bus services in Lorain County, and would perhaps replace some bus services in Cuyahoga County.  The commuter rail service would operate between Black River Landing in Lorain and downtown Cleveland. Stations would be located in Lorain, Sheffield, Avon, Westlake, Bay Village, Rocky River, Lakewood and Cleveland. It is hoped that many of the park and ride facilities developed in the first two phases of the project would now function as park and ride lots at the commuter rail stations. Commuter bus service would continue to be operated between Sandusky and Cleveland as in Phase 2. Extension of commuter rail service to Sandusky and other Erie County locations would be re-examined as a possibility for the future.

The WestShore Study has estimated that it would cost nearly $160 million in improvements to the Norfolk Southern rail line and associated stations and park-and-ride lots, and in purchasing new rail cars and other equipment, to operate a startup commuter rail service.  The estimated annual cost of operating the commuter rail and commuter bus services in Phase 3 is approximately $17 million.

There are many challenges to developing intercounty transit service in the WestShore corridor. The most important of these is the establishment of a sustainable funding source to support the service. Currently, Lorain and Erie Counties lack a secure dedicated funding source for mass transit service to match the 1% county wide sales tax that supports the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) in Cuyahoga County. A source for those county’s portions of the cost of operating the service would be necessary to allow service to be operated. Identifying a potential operator of the commuter bus and rail service-whether it be Lorain County Transit (LCT), GCRTA, Erie County Transit, some combination of those agencies, or a new agency, is another issue that must be resolved before operation can begin. The high cost of commuter rail may be beyond the funding capacity of the region at this time, but the phased approach may allow for the more fiscally manageable commuter bus service to begin operating while the region works toward the goal of developing commuter rail.  

The budget for this phase of the WestShore Corridor Transportation Project is $423,000 and was managed by Lorain County.  Funds for 80% of this budget came from a Federal appropriation secured by Congresswoman Betty Sutton in 2008.  The remaining 20% of the project budget was contributed by local sources including the private sector, municipalities, transit authorities and government agencies from all three project area counties. Representatives from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), GCRTA, ODOT, Lorain County Transit and other organizations helped in manage the project via the WestShore Corridor Commuter Rail Task Force. 

Public comments will be accepted through November 2, 2011 at