ODOT officials hope community members will get on board with proposed Oasis Rail Transit project

MILFORD, Oh. -- The Cincinnati streetcar plan is the hot topic of local transportation talk, but the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is focusing on a new way of traveling that will not just run within a four-mile loop downtown.

On Dec. 11, ODOT held three public involvement meetings to introduce and discuss Cincinnati’s Oasis Transit Line , which is a part of the Eastern Corridor Project.

“We’ve got some information on conceptual schedules and conceptual rail vehicles and station locations and so we really want the public to weigh in,” said Richard Dial, senior transportation planner of HDR Engineering, which is working with ODOT on the Oasis project.

About 35 people attended the last session of the day, in Milford. Among them was Lee Kressler of Eastgate, who is originally from Boston, a city with a long mass transit history.

“It grew with the community, instead of you got a whole community like Cincinnati, and you try to push this on. So everybody is used to it, so everybody knows how well it works,” he said.

What is it?

Oasis would be a 10-station system running along a 17-mile rail corridor from downtown Cincinnati through Milford. 

ODOT officials said they created this initiative to make transportation easier, safer, faster, and more effective for residents living in the suburbs and in downtown. It is touted as modern, efficient, quiet, and comfortable. ODOT says it will reduce traffic congestion and get people to where they want to be faster.

ODOT is looking ahead, too--with the idea of expanding to other areas of the region once the 17-mile rail is launched.

“It could stand alone, but ideally once you make this commitment as a region then you say, 'well probably we’ll want to put more,'” said Joseph C. Vogel, planning and engineering administrator for ODOT.

The team is now working on station planning and how to make this project a “complete marketable project by April 2014,” said Vogel. If all goes according to schedule, Oasis could be launch in as little as three years.

Once more planning comes into play: ODOT officials say they're looking for collaborators, like the METRO bus service and the Cincinnati streetcar (if it becomes a reality), to improve transportation in the Cincinnati region.

How much will it cost?

The projected price tag for Oasis is between $210 million to $320 million, funds that would come from the federal government, local municipalities, and taxpayers.

"Our hope is to get it to something that the region can afford,” said Vogel.

So far, planners are still considering just how much a passenger would pay to use the Oasis line.

“So as we get closer and we begin to refine the service, then we can take the operating costs and divide that into the different things and come up with a fare schedule,” Dial said. “Some other rail systems use automobile costs as kind of a cost per mile if travel by car to help them determine what the rail fair is going to be. People find that very equitable because they see that and it’s like, ‘Yeah I’ll take the train because it’s going to cost me x cents a mile anyway.’”

Not yet "all aboard"

At the Milford meeting Thursday night, Newtown City Council Member Cheryl McConnell was not quite ready to  embrace Oasis.

“We feel like we need more information, but I can say that we would be more in favor of it if it’s separated out from the Eastern Corridor Project because it would be using existing rail lines and that kind of thing,” McConnell said. “It sounds like (ODOT) is very open to working with the community and make sure that the community wants this Oasis line. So it’s a different process of receiving something.”

Anyone who missed Dec. 11 meetings can go to easterncorridor.org and weigh in via an online survey. Planners will consider feedback from the meetings and the survey responses.

“We use that as we go forward. It’s part of our environmental document that we have to prepare to get approval to move forward in the next step,” Vogel said.

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