To put it simply: we need to start small.
To put it more exactly: we need a light rail shuttle between the Convention Center and the Airport.
It’s not that our new transit concepts to come out of the past few years haven’t been good ideas, it’s just that the timing is wrong.
COTA’s fast trax program was too ambitious to start with, and while proponents of light rail can shout about “the greater good” until they’re blue in the face, taxpayers that have to foot the bill are always going to be skeptical of new things because they don’t want to waste money and wind up making a mistake. I agree with them that Columbus doesn’t need a big transit blunder to make us a laughing stock.
And the downtown streetcar initiative is a great plan, and on a much smaller scale, but it’s most likely not going to see ground breaking work until after the completion of the highway split fix so that the streetcar tracks can be laid on the bridges running over the split. We can’t wait that long to get started on something.
Instead, I’m suggesting that we start with a light-rail shuttle that runs directly from the CMH Airport terminal to a station situated directly in between the Convention Center and The Arena District and adjacent to Downtown, The Short North, The North Market, and more. This is a prime location to deliver our airport visitors.
I’d think that this plan is something that could see groundbreaking within a year and shouldn’t take too long to see completion. The tracks are already mostly in place, so the stops on both ends are all that would be needed to get this thing running.
As far as funding goes, aside from federal assistance, the Airport, the Convention Center, the Visitors’ Bureau, Nationwide, and every Downtown improvement group should be funding this project. Additional support should come from Short North businesses, Downtown Hotels, and pretty much anyone else who’d be able to profit from this line.
Once we get one line in place, people will be able to see how rail transit works for Columbus and decide how they want to proceed with other plans after some hands-on experience. The downtown station for this line is in a prime spot for expansion as a transit hub, as it sits on the proposed streetcar line, could also function as a stop for multiple light rail lines running into suburban communities, sits next to existing bus lines and bike paths, and has enough nearby parking garage structures to serve those who want to park & ride at this stop.
Start small and start NOW!