Cincinnati Metro breaks ground on new Oakley bus transit center

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Metro broke ground Friday on a new bus transit center in Oakley.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority announced plans for the $1.2 million investment in late 2015, as part of its ongoing efforts to increase ridership and connect to more jobs throughout the city.

Metro spokesperson, Brandy Jones told WCPO earlier this year that Metro targeted the intersection of Ibsen and Marburg avenues for a transit center because of its growing presence as a job and retail center.

"We've been talking about this for a couple years now," Jones told WCPO. "With all the development happening there, we wanted to make sure we had a new transit center that will attract new riders, as well as serves current customers."

Boasting more than 7,000 nearby jobs, the transit center will sit just a short walk from Oakley's 14-screen CineMark movie theater, and not far from the massive, 74-acre Oakley Station -- home to the nation's second-largest Kroger store, which opened in 2015.

RELATED: Transit hub hopes to ride Oakley development coat-tails

A 2015 study by the University of Cincinnati Economic Center found that Metro is one of the most efficient bus systems among peer cities, but fails to provide access to roughly 75,000 jobs in the region.

Oakley's transit center is one of three large-scale transit enhancement projects in the works for Metro: A new transit hub is planned for Northside's Hamilton Avenue corridor at Knowlton's Corner, while improvements are also in store for Peeble's Corner in the heart of Walnut Hills.

The transit center will provide four sheltered boarding spots, and serve five routes -- two crosstown routes, two local routes and one express route. It will also provide dedicated parking spots nearby.

The $1.2 million investment is part of the Reinvent Metro initiative, launched by SORTA in 2016, meant to address a number of issues that threaten the bus service provider with looming millions-of-dollars deficit projections for the next decade.

In 2018 alone, Metro is facing a $3 million deficit -- which the city pledged to cover over two budget cycles. That number stands to climb over time, unless Metro can find a new permanent source of funding.

The SORTA Board of Trustees directed its staff to pursue a 2018 ballot measure that would ask voters to approve a new county-wide sales tax levy, in order to provide additional funding to Metro. The proposed rate has not been settled, but it could be anywhere from a half-cent sales tax to 1-cent. SORTA projects that the 1-cent sales tax would bridge the current budget gap projections and bring additional bus service to the region. Officials are still calculating what sales tax rate would bridge the budget gap.

The new transit center is funded by federal grants, matched by local contributions, and transit officials say construction should be complete by this coming winter.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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