Three Serious Streetcar Studies on Track

At least three Midwest cities are seriously pushing toward the construction of a modern streetcar system to diversify their transportation strategy, spark urban revitalization, attract talented workers, and strengthen competitiveness in the global economy. And Columbus, OH appears to be closest to actually laying the track.

The city last week announced a financial plan for a proposed 2.8 mile route connecting neighborhoods, downtown business districts, and The Ohio State University. Revenue from a special surcharge on sports and entertainment events, parking meters, rider fares, advertising, federal grants, and annual contributions from the University would fund the construction, extension, and operation of the $103 million High Street line, which is viewed as the first leg in a much more comprehensive system circulating people around the central city.

Parts of the community are skeptical the thing will work.

But experts forecast the route will generate 3,000 new jobs, $2.7 million in new income tax revenue, and as much as $764 million in new economic activity after five years.

"This is a step toward attracting and retaining young creative and entrepreneurial professionals in the region," Chester Jourdan Jr., executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said in a press release.

That seems to be the emerging consensus among future-oriented cities in the nation's heartland. Cincinnati, as another example, continues to debate a proposed $182 million streetcar line linking the University of Cincinnati, a medical hub, and the riverfront.

Leaders there hope to secure federal funding for the project, which will likely slow things down as they navigate the government's onerous process.

But Mayor Mark Mallory says the effort is a key "public improvement project" that deserves public funding.

Grand Rapids, MI, too, is taking a hard look at streetcar transit. A local task force recently agreed to the initial route for new service. And consultants and civic leaders continue to study whether investment in the proposed project is practical. Findings of the feasibility study are expected in June 2008.

"The development potential is huge," Peter Varga, CEO of the transit agency serving metro Grand Rapids recently said about the proposed initial route, which would run past several surface parking lots, vacant lots, and underutilized properties ripe for reinvestment.