Focused almost entirely on asphalt and concrete, Ohio’s transportation budget is more suited to the 1950s than to the economic and social needs of the 21st century. Allocating roughly $34 million a year to mass transit — slightly more than 1 percent of the budget — Ohio ranks near the bottom among the states in transit spending per person.
Ohio needs a plan from the General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich that not only rebuilds and maintains aging transportation infrastructure, but also helps metropolitan regions such as Toledo create transit systems that reduce congestion, get people to jobs, improve air quality, and conserve energy. That will require the same vision and courage that built a great interstate highway system nearly 60 years ago.
Giving people transportation choices is an economic-development asset, not only for employers who seek entry-level workers but also for cities that struggle to attract and retain educated young people.
“People want to be in vibrant urban areas, and that means access to good transit and bike paths,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a Cleveland-based nonprofit transit advocacy group. “This will become a life-and-death economic development issue for the state over the next 20 years.”
Ohio has gone backward in the past three decades, with big losses in intercity bus, rail, and air service. A recent Brookings Institution report ranked metro Toledo among the worst major U.S. metropolitan areas for its share of jobs in neighborhoods served by public transit. In suburban Toledo, only one-third of jobs are transit-accessible, depriving many businesses of potential workers.
Nearly 9 percent of Ohio households don’t have vehicles, compared to 12 percent nationwide and nearly 14 percent in Toledo, according to Census figures. People are driving less, as aging Baby Boomers spend more time away from their vehicles and young people choose public transportation, which continues to show record ridership.
At a hearing this week, advocates called for more money for transit by increasing “transportation choice” funding by $75 million a year for the state’s 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. The plan, sponsored by Rep. Matt Lundy (D., Elyria), would double the amount for transit, bike lanes, and other options in Ohio’s transportation budget.
It’s not enough, but it is a start. Increasing Ohio’s transportation options would reduce dependence on oil, promote jobs, improve public health, and provide affordable transportation choices throughout the state, including the Toledo area.