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Published: Wednesday, 11/10/2010

Railroad job

UNTIL the suffix is removed from Gov.-elect John Kasich's title, Ted Strickland remains Ohio's chief executive. The public pressure Mr. Kasich is exerting on Mr. Strickland to halt spending on studies of a modern passenger rail system in the state is neither helpful nor justified.

Killing the 3C system that would link Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and points in between, was one of Mr. Kasich's most explicit campaign promises. When he takes office Jan. 10, the governor-elect can be expected to follow through.

Meanwhile, the federal money Mr. Strickland is applying to contracts for engineering and environmental-impact planning - a projected $15 million to $25 million of the $400 million federal stimulus grant for the rail project - is not, in Mr. Kasich's dismissive words, "unnecessary spending."

Even if Mr. Kasich makes good on his threat to ax 3C, the studies that are under way will help improve freight rail service throughout the state - a stated goal of the governor-elect - by identifying priorities for track upgrades. That infrastructure investment will benefit the Toledo area even though it is not along the proposed passenger-rail route.

And while it seems a futile hope, Mr. Kasich might yet want to re-examine the merits of the rail plan. Turning back nearly $400 million to Washington - some of it Ohioans' tax dollars - during a persistent recession would not seem an act of fiscal prudence. Even some Republican state lawmakers are questioning the timing of the governor-elect's anti-3C rhetoric.

The Obama Administration has made clear that Ohio cannot convert its passenger-rail grant to highway or freight-rail spending, or anything else. New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo already has stuck his hand out for our state's rail money once Columbus forfeits it.

Mr. Kasich berated Mr. Strickland throughout the campaign for Ohio's loss of 400,000 jobs during the incumbent governor's term. So it seems a bit odd that he now would encourage Governor Strickland to boost that total by 16,000 - the number of estimated jobs the 3C project would create.

Improving passenger rail service would connect Ohio more closely to the rest of the country's rail network. If Ohio ignores this opportunity to modernize its transportation system, other states surely will not. They will realize the benefits - not only economic development, but also a cleaner environment, more-efficient use of energy resources, and greater convenience for travelers.

President Obama, after his election two years ago but before his inauguration, steered clear of involving himself in foreign-policy issues or the auto industry bailout. He said the country has only "one president at a time."

Similarly, Ohio has one governor as a time. As eager as Mr. Kasich appears to take over, he owes it to Mr. Strickland - on the 3C issue and others - to let the governor complete the last two months of this term before he imposes his own agenda.



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