Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Monorail called too costly to build now

TARTA exec seeks report on systems

Responding to a request from one of his agency's most vocal critics, TARTA General Manager James Gee has directed Planning Director Jason Binder to compile a report on monorail systems built in other cities.

But beyond doing that, the head of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority said developing plans for a monorail in Toledo would require financial backing from other sources in the city or region because the transit agency lacks the funds to pay for such a project even if 80 percent of its cost were covered by federal grants.

Members of the transit authority board of trustees' capital projects and facilities committee also expressed doubt that such a project would be feasible for the transit authority, considering that construction would exceed its current budget by more than tenfold.

Pitching the monorail idea to the committee last week, Kevin Haddad, a Sylvania Township trustee, said such a system would "revitalize this community, instead of waiting for things to happen."

He proposed a 25-mile corridor, primarily using freeway medians, that would run from Westfield Franklin Park in West Toledo through downtown Toledo to Levis Commons in Perrysburg Township. Stops along the way would have feeder buses to expand the system's reach.

Mr. Haddad, who repeatedly decried TARTA's operation of "big, empty buses" in suburban communities to support his opposition to a transit authority proposal last year to seek a sales tax to replace its property taxes, said he would be "on board" with a sales tax if its revenue were used "to pay for a system like this that I would use on a regular basis."

"You'd have no waiting for a bus in the rain," he said. "It would be clean, fast, and comfortable."

Such a system also would put Toledo on a national pedestal, Mr. Haddad said, instead of the city making news only when bad things happen here.

"You've never seen us [on national television] because we're doing something good," he said. "Let's be a model. Otherwise, turn out the lights and lock the doors."

When asked about funding sources for the $300 million he estimated the 25-mile route would cost to build, Mr. Haddad said, "I'm sure we could get some federal transportation money."

Committee member Francis Frey, a past chairman of the TARTA board, told Mr. Haddad his proposal was exciting, but also a "huge concept."

"I understand what you're saying about wanting to energize the area," Mr. Frey said, but its scope probably was beyond the transit authority's capabilities.

James Bohn, the trustees' current president, said it might be more appropriate for another agency, such as the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority or the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, to build such a project and then arrange for TARTA to run it.

"I don't see it being TARTA's project," trustee Thomas Ramsdell agreed during a follow-up discussion after Mr. Haddad had left the meeting.

Mr. Frey recommended that as a way to assess construction and operating costs, transit authority staff should gather information about what other communities had done, but the proposal should not be taken further without broader community involvement.

"I don't know that we ought to spend a ton of time or resources on it," he said, later adding, "I can fully appreciate his [Mr. Haddad's] desire to bring life to Toledo, to bring life to this place, because it's ... sad at the moment."

Mr. Gee said cost estimates he has seen for monorails have been much higher than that Mr. Haddad presented -- $150 million a mile for traditional monorails, and even more for magnetic-levitation systems currently in use only at the Shanghai, China airport.

Right now, Mr. Gee added after the meeting, TARTA could hardly afford the 20 percent local funding match even if it got a federal grant to build a $35-million-a-mile "light rail" system, such as one proposed several years ago to pass through downtown Toledo on a route roughly linking Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center and Fifth Third Field.

"That's a lot of money that somebody would have to find," the general manager said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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