Advocates works for better federal transportation

The newly renovated spring street bus terminal in Downtown, Columbus is one of the perfect examples of how valuable federal transportation dollar is to officials.

“It’s a small representative of projects possible with federal funding,” Lee said on Thursday to roughly 50 city and county officials, transportation advocates, business leaders and representatives from trade groups.

The group, which gathered beneath the terminal canopy that was completed among $2.4 million in upgrades in February, called on Congress to renew and extend funding for a federal transportation program. More than 300 organizations nationwide held similar events yesterday as part of a Stand Up 4 Transportation Day campaign sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association.

President Barack Obama signed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, into law in 2012, which funneled $105 billion in federal money into transportation programs in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

Lawmakers extended funding through May 31. And now COTA and other agencies in the state and country want to see it extended further.

“This action is important for central Ohio for many reasons, not the least of which is that central Ohio is the fastest growing region in the state with projections for population growth of 500,000 and job growth of 300,000 by the year 2050,” said Curtis Stitt, president and CEO at COTA. “ We need the ability to plan and build the transportation infrastructure needed to keep pace with that growth.”

Without an extension of federal transportation dollars, he said, a COTA project that would transport riders between Downtown and Polaris would be at risk. The Cleveland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, or CMAX, includes a high-frequency, limited-stop service between Downtown and Rt. 161 with an enhanced service between Rt. 161 and Polaris.

The project, which is slated to begin in 2017, would receive $38 million under Obama’s 2016 fiscal-year budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation. But that funding is dependent on congressional approval.

“Our transportation infrastructure is absolutely vital to our city,” said Columbus Councilman Shannon Hardin, who leads the city’s public-service and transportation committee. “You, the people, are our life blood, but our roads are the arteries and veins that carry you to and from the various parts of the region.”

COTA has received about $22 million in federal funding annually for the past several years, which represents more than one-third of the agency’s roughly $59million capital budget. Officials said they need that money to purchase new buses and renovate facilities.

Federal dollars also support transportation construction, which in Ohio accounts for more than 109,000 jobs each year, said Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association.

He said about $1 billion in federal funds now support Ohio construction projects.

“We need that steady, reliable source of federal funding to maintain all of those jobs,” he said.

Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, attended the event and reassured officials and transportation advocates that their concerns have been heard.

“I am here to tell you I am walking the talk,” said Beatty, who testified before Congress in support of a long-term transportation bill.

In February, the Obama administration proposed a $478.3 billion, six-year transportation plan for federal highway, mass-transit, highway-safety and passenger-rail programs through fiscal year 2021. But the proposal has been mostly rejected by congressional Republicans.

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