[Updated] Kasich administration intends to cancel state’s highest-ranking transportation project


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According to accounts published today in the Cincinnati Enquirer and expanded upon by the Columbus Government Examiner, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory was told by the Governor himself that he intended to cancel funding for the City’s streetcar project – including funds that were already approved by the State’s Transportation Review Advisory Committee. The TRAC, as it is known, was set up to take politics out of the selection process, and use objective scoring criteria to rank and approve major new transportation projects.

Based upon existing scoring criteria, the Cincinnati project received the highest ranking – 84 points – of all projects in Ohio (see line #10). As far as anyone can tell, the scoring criteria have not been changed. The TRAC has met only once since the Kasich administration took office – on February 23. Unless new scoring criteria were introduced and approved by Committee members at that meeting (minutes are still unavailable from ODOT), we are left to conclude that politics (or a general dislike of public transit) is behind the decision to kill the project, and not any objective criteria on the merits.

The TRAC meets again on April 12, and is expected to finalize the list of projects, including a 2nd round of funding for the streetcar project. It remains to be seen whether they will approve new scoring criteria at that meeting, but there will not be time for those criteria to be applied before they vote on finalizing the project list at the same meeting.

This should raise alarm bells for supporters of other high-ranking projects on the current draft TRAC project list. Stark County should be concerned about its $15 million Mahoning Road transit project, which received the 2nd highest score on the list. Lucas County might want to keep an eye out on it’s #3-scoring Rt 73-McCord Road grade separation project. If the administration can kill a project without regard for how it scored using the TRAC’s own criteria, there isn’t much point of having an appointed Committee in the first place. Interestingly, current ODOT director Jerry Wray was overseeing the Department with the TRAC was created, and should remember its purpose to take politics out of the decision-making process. We’ll see if he is a team player or pushes for more objectivity in project selection.

UPDATE – we should add that there is a budget connection here, or we wouldn’t have written about it. The administration cited state budget woes as the reason for denying funding to the streetcar project. But former ODOT officials we spoke with confirm that the project was to receive federal pass-through funds through the Surface Transportation Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, both of which can only be spent on transportation projects, and cannot be used to plug the state budget deficit. So rather than helping the budget at all, this will only mean redirecting federal dollars from the Streetcar to another (likely non-transit) project.

The Ohio Environmental Council and All Aboard Ohio issued a joint press release about the decision today.

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