Streetcars Debated in Columbus

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Columbus Mayor Coleman’s streetcar proposal was debated today at the Columbus Metropolitan Club. Coleman wants to build a 103-million-dollar line that would connect downtown with Ohio State University along North High Street.

Backers of the mayor’s streetcar plan say it’s essential to revitalizing downtown Columbus. Bob Weiler, chairman of a real estate brokerage firm was adamant in his opposition: he said a streetcar line connecting downtown with Ohio State was unnecessary because 15 COTA bus lines already provide service to the area.

“We all agree that we want to do whatever we can to lower costs and have a healthier city,” Weiler said. “I don’t think the streetcar is the answer because we already have a bus every three to four minutes downtown and close to that going further north. So I think it’s redundant and I think putting a rail line down the middle of High Street is a mistake.”

But the head of the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Chester Jourdan, suggested that not building the streetcar line would be the mistake.

“This is not about the streetcar; this is about the transportation system of the 21st century for Central Ohio. And the question is, how do we get from Point A to Point B? This is the first step,” Jourdan said.

Weiler says Columbus already has a rapid transit system; it’s called the freeway. But MORPC’s Chester Jourdan says rapid transit of the future must be more diverse.

“We’ve created a great highway system in central Ohio,Joudan said. But it was based on two principals: cheap fuel and low impact or no impact on our environment. We know those two principals are flawed. Energy costs are going to continue to rise and we know that our carbon footprint is a huge problem here in this region. What we’re saying is we need a more balanced diversified transportation system, for this region to grow and to compete economically. This is all about Economics 101.”

Backers of the streetcar predict economic stimulus in the billions of dollars, the creation of 3,000 jobs and an additional 90,000 convention attendees annually. But Bob Weiler wonders why people who commute to the city center should have to pay more for parking and a tax on entertainment.

“It does not follow that you spend $103 million on a streetcar and all of a sudden everybody has benefited who’s driving in from the suburbs now has to pay a higher ticket price,” Weiler said. “They’re benefited because other people are on a streetcar where a bus also goes?”

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