This was posted in the comments on ColumbusUnderground.com here:
Not that I’ll ever say there’s any way to capture reality 100%, but the article in the Dispatch is a bit misleading. Some things we discussed with the reporter yesterday that were not necessarily reflected:
1. Streetcars are a piece of a broader regional system that we need to start planning for today. The City, MORPC and COTA have been in talks for some time about how to officially take this conversation to the next level with the public, and we need as much public support as possible. The disagreement is generally between people who believe we should hold off on phase 1 (streetcars) or go ahead and get construction going while we enter what could be a multi-year debate on how to pay for the heavier light rail, and exactly where the lines go. In the end, we believe there will be a modern streetcar line built on High Street either way that integrates with Light Rail, cars and buses. The variable is when we get it built… by 2012/2013 or much later. We don’t think we should wait.
For those who’ve actually read our research and policy papers instead of just the paper, you know we’ve been talking about how this streetcar needs to be planned for and integrated into a broader regional transportation plan with bikes, buses, high-speed rail and light rail for a long time.
2. We are a very fiscally conservative City, and it is good for Council to reflect that, we respect their oversight and have listened to their concerns. With the changes coming in Washington and the growing national interest in rail, we believe the time is right to get Columbus at the table for future Federal funding, and this may relieve the pressure on our General Fund.
We believe the Federal Government is about to make a major change in strategy on highways vs. rail, and we will be stepping up efforts to address that through the contract we’re about to put forward.
The problem, no matter who is President, is that they’re going to want to see a City with a credible plan and money on the table to get started when they rank where their investment will go. Columbus needs to keep our process going, or risk falling further behind other cities on this potential funding stream. We are ranked last for big cities when it comes to rail and transit, and we’re the biggest city with no rail in the US. We need to break some old habits here and show that our community is ready to deal with transportation more holistically.
3. Our team at the City, with COTA, MORPC and others have been continuing our outreach (as promised) to get input and answer some of the tough questions after the hearings earlier this year, and we’re putting together a plan to update and finish the financing plan based on the input we’re getting from small and large businesses and residents. (Thank you to everyone who has hosted a meeting!) The legislation to fund this next step should be ready in a week or two. This is hardly on the shelf, and the D’s wording is unfortunately misleading.
One of the Mayor and our team’s goals starting several years ago was to stir the pot of the transit debate with these concepts and plans, and we’ve been very successful in that. Even if everyone on CU has a different opinion on exactly how this should work, the excellent thing is that the debate is going on at a broader level than at any time in 10 years in Columbus. Thank you all for being a part of that.