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Open Letter to Ohio’s Governor-Elect John Kasich

5 November 2010 25 Comments

Dear Governor-Elect Kasich,

Congrats on your victory in the Ohio governor’s race this week. You’ve got a tough job on your hands and I don’t envy you, taking the reigns in a state with an $8 billion budget deficit and a 10 percent unemployment rate. I didn’t vote for you, but I considered it. Even so, I think I join the vast majority of Ohio residents when I wish you the best of success.

Even though you only won election a few days ago, I hope you don’t mind, I have a little bone to pick with you. I was more than a little dismayed to hear that in your post-election victory speech, you said Ohio’s plan to connect Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati via passenger rail was “dead,” and that “passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.”

Forgive my confusion, but I fail to see how returning $400 million in federal money is the right decision for a state with our record on unemployment. According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, that infusion of cash would have immediately created 255 jobs. The US Department of Commerce even suggested it would result in a total of 8,000 spin-off jobs.

But, of course, the 3C Corridor wasn’t about creating jobs, it was about moving people. Now, I understand some people have complained that the plan was for conventional-speed as opposed to high-speed rail. Some skeptics have wondered whether Ohioans would be willing to sacrifice the convenience of their private automobiles for a mode that was likely to take longer and would force them to operate on an arbitrary schedule.

I feel compelled to point out, however, that this statement makes a number of assumptions that do not necessarily represent the perspective of the state as a whole. For example, are you aware that at the time of the latest census, 374,000 Ohio households did not have a private vehicle available to them? This represents more than 8 percent of the state’s households. Furthermore, it assumes people would not be willing to sacrifice some of their time, for say, better environmental consequences, or a chance to devote their travel time to reading or another productive pursuit.

It frustrates me when I hear people make unqualified statements such as “no one will ride it” because, I for one, would. See, I own a car, but prefer other modes of transportation. I like to bike and take public transit. It saves me money and it makes me feel like I’m doing my part to preserve the environment.

Except living in Ohio makes that very hard because of the way our infrastructure has been developed. For example, I ride my bike three miles to and from work every day. Though my commute takes me through the heart of downtown Cleveland, on the way I encounter no dedicated bike lanes–with the exception of one bridge in which the bike lane ends without warning in the middle.

Ohio’s current infrastructure, as convenient as it may be for those who just love going everywhere by private car, isn’t serving people like me very well. Nor is it serving the hundreds and thousands of households who lack access to private automobiles.

Now, it’s hard for me to say how many people across the state feel the same way I do. But I’m willing to bet there are quite a few. The thing is, we pay taxes too. Why should we subsidize others transportation preferences while ours are systematically ignored? Furthermore, why should hundreds of thousands of car-less households across the state, whose incomes are no doubt lower than the general population, do the same?

Another complaint about the rail system is that is wouldn’t be self supporting and would have to be subsidized by the state. To this, I say, show me a transportation mode that doesn’t require a public subsidy. Certainly not private automobiles, which require enormous public expenditures on roads and parking, not to mention foreign policy interventions aimed at keeping fuel prices low.

I love Ohio and I’ve lived here most of my life. My family lives here and I like seeing them regularly. Overall, it’s a pretty nice place to live, I’d say. But more and more, lately, I’m frustrated by the direction the state is heading.

While other states are competing to lay the most bike lanes or expand carless transportation options, Ohio, as demonstrated by your leadership, seems to delight in pursuing outdated strategies of questionable value in a future of energy uncertainty. I worry, in short, that Ohio is becoming less competitive, falling farther behind.

It makes me question my future in this state. I read today that less young people across the nation after choosing to get driver’s licenses and purchase cars. This is part of a national trend away from car based lifestyles. I consider myself a part of this movement. But the message I am getting from the state of Ohio is that there’s no room for people like me here.

Sometimes I think about my friends that have moved on from Ohio to areas with more sophisticated transit networks: Washington, New York, Portland. And sometimes I feel foolish for not having joined them.

So, although it seems like your mind is made up on this issue, I still feel compelled to ask you: please don’t kill 3c rail in Ohio. I was planning to use it to visit my parents in Columbus and, if expansion plans moved forward, Toledo. It would have made it possible for me to get rid of my car.

I’ve done the right thing. I’ve paid my taxes. I’ve tried to help contribute to the state’s future prosperity. When will my needs be considered? Or do I have to move to another state for that?

Respectfully,

Angie Schmitt

Cleveland resident

Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Pingback: Streetsblog Capitol Hill » An Open Letter to Ohio Governor-Elect John Kasich

  • http://motowntotreetown.wordpress.com Andy

    Well put! I’m about to draft my own open missive to our new Republican governor-elect in Michigan, coincidentally.

  • Iam

    Dear Angie,

    You can still get rid of your car. Use the proceeds to buy bus tickets. You save money and the taxpayers save money.

    Happy Trails,

    Iam

  • schmange

    Iam,

    I already am saving taxpayers money. And by the way, I don’t think it’s investments in alternative transportation that are breaking the state. Maintaining 113,000 miles of roads isn’t cheap.

    This deficit hawk stuff is such baloney.

    You’re welcome!

    Angie

  • schmange

    Sounds cool, Andy. Make sure and post a link to it here.

  • Special K

    Angie: Well stated!

  • schmange

    And another thing, Iam. While we’re asking favors of eachother, why don’t you start taking the bus for transportation in order to save taxpayers money?

  • .JD

    Angie

    Excellent letter, but don’t expect the Republicans to understand your concerns. They are all about oil, and encouraging mass transit or alternative transportation systems is simply not in the cards.

    Oh well, I’m sure the $400 million will be spent elsewhere and Ohio will fall further behind.

    JD

  • Sarah Hartley

    Good points in your letter, Angie!!! I hope the governor-elect reads it.

  • Railbeast

    Way to go Governor Elect… I look forward to my tax cuts as you cut school, senior centers, public highway funding, and most of all the state gas tax as these all require state taxes. Finally a governor who looks our rail freight and not all those needy tax paying citizens wanting to have an option other than cars… keep that mind open…. business before Ohioans.

  • ryan

    what if we were to reconsider the 3C plan to make more room for private/market driven investment? for example, rather than subsidize amtrak, we used the 400 million to pay for rail improvements and then let private companies operate on the lines, similar to what we do with roads, waterways, and airways. it seems that there would be companies that would be interested in turning a profit by providing an additional transportation option and doing so would also seem to eliminate the concerns about public subsidy and the lack of a market for such services. thoughts?

  • Special K

    Looks like New York state has said they’ll take the $ if Ohio doesn’t want it:

    http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Show-us-their-money-Cuomo-says-800759.php

  • Josh

    The jobs that would be created are temporary. The cost you mention is significantly low balled (google:big dig). Your justification is woefully small. This rail project is the equivalent of paying people to dig holes during the depression. How about we find a way to lure PRIVATE investment dollars to this state by eliminating state income tax? This would bring many more jobs and long term wealth. Heck, you might even get your bike lane. Your type of thinking needs to change in order for us to shake off the rust. A rail connection is an unnecessary expense with our national deficit. If every state gave back this money we would be better served.

  • schmange

    Josh,

    You and I both know that money isn’t going to be used to plug the deficit, it’s going to another state.
    As for your assertion about sales tax, that’s a much bigger open question than rail in Ohio. It’s kinda outside our purview here though.

    You can have your opinions, but don’t imply I didn’t do my homework. This nation spends $181 billion annually maintaining roads. Building rail would reduce wear and tear. That could save Ohio money. Think about it. What does it cost to put in a lane on 71? Do you know? Have you ever thought about that?

    What is up with this knee jerk conservative opposition to rail. You guys won’t be happy until every man, woman and child in this state needs a Chevy 4by4 to get to the refrigerator, huh? That’s the American way, we have to protect, no matter how much evidence there is that it is hurting us, huh?

    If that’s the future of this state, count me out. I like living an active lifestyle. You guys are setting yourself up to drown under the costs of your obesity-related medical bills and paving costs for a bunch of cul-de-sacs to nowhere. You can call that fiscal conservatism if you want. (How do you do that with a straight face, by the way?) It’s bad governing. It’s denial.

    Privatize roads, I say, otherwise we don’t need them. Oh my gosh, but then what happens to your free lunch? That’s the problem, with the “fiscal argument,” your preferences should be paid by taxes, no matter the costs. Others should be private.

    Josh, do you have kids? Do you like the idea of having to get into a plane to see them? You grumpy old men are going to have this state all to yourself soon. You’ll win this battle and lose the war.

  • Max Smith

    If we are going to commit to a rail system it has to be high speed. To build anything that is not part of the US High Speed Rail system is absurd.

    The trains we were planning on purchasing have a top speed in the 70′s….that top speed was attainable by trains 180 YEARS AGO! I know, I know, we will eventually purchase new trains that can hit 110 MPH. That’s still slow! IN 1939, Wisconsin put a 110MPH train into service.
    IT’S 2010, PEOPLE!!! Why in the heck would we purchase trains that have a top speed in the 70′s or even 110MPH???? This will make Cleveland a bigger joke than we already are.

    By comparison, the California’s High Speed Rail is going to have a route from Fresno to LA with speeds up to 220MPH. Why are we talking about 70MPH for Ohio??? Please dont tell me “it’s a start”. If you are going to start it has to be true high speed, at least 160MPH.

    Fresno to L.A. – 255 miles – 1 hr and 24mins (5 stops)
    Cleveland to Cincy “3C” – 256 miles – 6 hrs and 32 mins (7 stops)
    Driving from Cleveland to Cincy – 3 hrs and 45 mins

    How many people would use a train that could get you from Cleveland to Cincy in 6-1/2 hours??? Not too many.
    How many people would use a train that could get you from Cleveland to Cincy in 1-1/2 hours??? A LOT!!!

    Throwing billions of dollars at a system and using 100 year old technology, that would actually move people SLOWER than cars, is insane. If it isn’t at least the most basic “high speed”, it’s nothing but a boondoggle.

    If you are going to do it, do it right the first time.

    This is a high speed rail sytem –
    http://www.ushsr.com/hsrnetwork.html
    http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/

  • Kyle S

    @Max Smith. Don’t be ignorant of the facts. The trains are not the limiting factor when it comes to the 79 mph speed limit. The rails are. That train in Wisconsin that ran at 110 mph was likely running on brand new tracks. Face it, we have an aging infrastructure in the country. In order to rebuild the rails to meet federal standards for 110 mph operation would cost billions of dollars. I have a hard time believing any conservative would jump on that plan if they’re complaining about a $17 million a year subsidy to operate the 79 mph option. Want a 160 mph train? You’re probably easily over $10 billion for a system like that.

    The current method of starting rail in Ohio is correct. We need to begin service and prove demand. As demand grows so will quality and quantity of service.

    By the way, all this conservative outrage at the 3C is a joke. The high up Republicans have determined that since Obama has made available funds to complete high speed rail projects then they must be against it! It was a Republican Governor (Taft I believe) that proposed that damn thing in the first place! This project would be good for the state and everyone knows it. It’s a shame that some people are willing to cost their state jobs and development to score political points. Embarrassing actually.

  • Matej Znidarcic

    Max, the difference between the Ohio and California plans is scale. California has a well developed, state supported, conventional-speed rail system. Ohio does not. California’s high speed rail will cost $40 billion. Ohio can’t justify that kind of expense without first doing what California did 20 years ago – subsidizing conventional speed rail.

    Keep in mind, the 79 MPH top speed is a speed limit, not a technical maximum. It’s based on track conditions and signaling. I’m not sure, but I think the trains would be technically capable of 110 MPH operation, it’s the track and federal regulations that will prevent that. In fact, everything that this start-up money will do will be preparation for 110 MPH speeds. 110 is the ultimate goal for running on existing track and right-of-way, but that’ll take several billion dollars in improvements. The $400 million is the first phase of that.

    Your 6 hour schedule between Cleveland and Cincy is from Amtrak’s baseline. New studies show the schedule is capable of 5 hr 14 min run time, end to end (Cleveland to Columbus ins 2 hr 20 min). Now, Amtrak’s schedule is likely a worst case, and the new study may be a best case, but travel time between Cleveland and Columbus or Cincy and Columbus is pretty competitive with auto times (10%-20% more by train). Plus, time on the train is productive, whereas time spent in a car is not. If the train takes half an hour more on a two hour car ride, for instance, you still gain an hour and a half of productive time – which is very good for people traveling on business.

    If 3C topped out at 79 MPH and the current schedule, I’d agree that it’s a foolish endeavor. If the $400 million was doing work that was completely unnecessary for 110 MPH operation, I’d agree that it’s foolish. But 110 MPH would probably be time- and cost-competitive with planes (including travel to the airport, check-in, security, travel from the destination airport) and personal vehicles. I doubt Ohio would need 220 MPH trains any time in the next several decades – especially at the tens of billions of dollars it would cost. 110 MPH trains will do wonders for the 3C corridor, and this quick start plan is a down payment on that 110 MPH operation.

  • J.R.

    Max, the top speed, 79mph, isn’t limited by the train itself, but by the tracks.

    If conservatives are unwilling to spend $400 million for this start-up service, why would they even consider spending billions to create an entirely new high-speed system?

  • Ryan
  • Keith

    Move to another state unless you want to waste away in a city in a state where it’ll be at least a decade until a 3C corridor is even approved. The 3Cs themselves are resistant to encouraging great urban environments (cars first, people last) and have fallen behind cities like Minneapolis and even Pittsburgh (hence no 3C). If you want a progressive city with rail you’ll need to cross the border. I know I will.

  • schmange

    Keith. I totally think you are right. Cleveland is definitely 10 years behind the times on this stuff, at least. People act like I’m crazy for suggesting bike lanes should be a part of the city’s infrastructure, or let me correct myself, more than one bike lane. I heard they are sending the 3C money to North Carolina. Awesome! The absolutely last thing Ohio needs is to send $400 million to North Carolina. That’s where all my high school friends live, by the way.

    Way to go Kacish. First move as Gov. is to give another state $400 million. As long as you get to be the cool guy in the Republican locker room, that’s what really matters. Sensible policies are so sissified.

    It’s going to be a great four years for Ohio.

  • jean

    You know if we just got the rail in and running later I’m betting there would be funds to help improve rail lines so the speed could be increased to much faster speeds and please all!! But if we dont put it in Ohio will be left behind not a smart move.

  • Steve

    Good letter and it’s worth pointing out to Gov-elect Kasich as well as our state senators and representatives that many people across Ohio support inter-city rail and improved funding for mass transportation. For Ohio to have a chance at retaining and attracting the best and the brightest, it has to offer quality of life issues that many people favor like mass transit. Here in Cincinnati, many people partnered with key local leaders to successfully fight back naysayers in order to build a new streetcar line and create a master plan for new bike paths throughout the city. Improved mass transit can happen in Ohio and it’s a fight worth making.

  • http://www.columbus-ite.com Keith

    Schmange, I hear ya. I was rooting for Ohio from the other C just down south and like you I see no desire to be serious about connecting our cities to others with rail. I could actually put up with it if there were a focus on seriously upping the number of car alternatives within our cities. Columbus has a 20 year plan: you mean it takes 20 years for them to paint some roads? No, but this isn’t for cars, so 20 years it is; I’ll be about 50 by the time they’re done. In reality, this shouldn’t be so surprising since it’s merely the status quo when it comes to where our transportation dollars go: car-oriented infrastructure.

    The continuation of the status quo doesn’t just mean that we have less options, but it really hurts the quality of life in the 3Cs. If you look at the progress of the revitalization of our urban neighborhoods vs. others we basically have the same handful of neighborhoods that locals like to tout while others have been “up and coming” for at least a decade.

    The two cities I listed earlier were no coincidence. Both offer a combo no C can claim, especially Minneapolis: rail and several dense urban business districts that are not sitting empty thanks to can-do entrepreneurs and residents desiring more than just a few top notch urban neighborhoods.

    We have Kasich as governor because we don’t have enough urban residents that care about urban living and mass transit. That’s why Kasich got the vote despite three large cities that could have easily kept him out of office and explains why our cities still prioritize a cars first environment. When basic improvements exist to enhance our streets for pedestrians and cyclists get put off for years at the expense of road widening (how are we going to pay for all those new lanes again?), I don’t see any reason to fight for something that almost no one else wants. Hopefully, with the streetcar Cincinnati will be on its way to become *the* city in Ohio, but outside of that I’m not seeing much that is attractive for car-free living unless I move out of state.

  • Special K

    Some wisdom on this topic from The Economist:
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2010/12/high-speed_rail_and_culture_war

    The writer of this piece suggests America’s failure to build high-speed rail is because it has become a “culture war” issue.