Light-rail service gets green light

The Columbus Dispatch – July 28, 1994

Armed with what it considers ”very favorable” public support, COTA is going ahead full-throttle with plans to provide light-rail service in Columbus.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority board voted unanimously yesterday to support plans to expand its bus service and build an 11.2-mile light-rail line along the city’s north corridor by 2001.

In November 1995, COTA plans to ask Franklin County residents to increase the current 0.25 percent sales tax to a permanent 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for the $522 million project.

The tax increase would push the countywide sales tax to 6 percent.

The 13-member COTA board passed a resolution authorizing COTA to ”further the project” and seek community comment.

”Seeing the response of the polling done by our marketing consultants . . . we have a resolution authorizing our staff to go forward with the next phase,” said board President Philip Whitaker. ”And that is to go out into the community for input.”

Paul Werth Associates, which performs public relations for COTA, created an opinion survey and hired Saperstein Associates, a research firm, to conduct the poll in May and June.

Thomas C. Sawyer, executive vice president of Paul Werth, said 400 Franklin County residents were polled. He said 68 percent stated that building a light-rail line is ”appealing.” When those polled were told of the cost, 62 percent still stated that they would ”support” it.

COTA did not make public the full poll questionnaire or demographic details.

Whitaker said the results of the $11,500 poll are positive.

”Everybody on COTA’s staff was delighted with them,” he said. ”They brought out what we have surmised for a long time, and that is the public acceptance for the plan.”

As much as 80 percent, or $418 million, of the project’s cost could be paid for by the federal government. COTA has said it probably will ask for only 60 percent to 70 percent in federal money to increase its chances of getting it.

COTA hired the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission a few years ago to study light rail, and last year it adopted a long-range plan that includes light rail.

Glenna Watson, COTA’s general manager, expects the public to support the plan.

”We know in our hearts that it is the wave of the future,” she said. ”We are looking forward to getting out and explaining light rail’s rewards.”