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Democratic candidate for Ohio governor vows state funds for public transit

Posted at 3:15 PM, Aug 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 18:17:11-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Democratic candidate for governor Rich Cordray has vowed to make investing in Ohio's roads, bridges and public transit a priority.

But some details -- such as, where exactly new money could come from -- remain unanswered.

In a news release Thursday, Cordray said, "Ohio's infrastructure is critical to our state's economic future... That's why as governor I'll work to repair our roads and bridges, invest in public transit, keep our water clean, and spread broadband internet across the state."

The move to dedicate state-generated funding to public transit could set Cordray apart from his would-be predecessor, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who has overseen some of the state's lowest public transit funding levels since the 1970s.

According to a 2017 analysis by Policy Matters Ohio, the Ohio Department of Transportation spends less on public transit than 44 other states, but has the 14th highest ridership in the nation.

Its a demand the low levels of funding have not kept up with: While ODOT funding helped provide 115 million rides in 2013, that was roughly 40 million rides short of demand, the report said.

In 2012 -- Kasich's first full year in office -- state and ODOT funding made up 3 percent of all dollars pumped into public transit statewide. Policy Matters Ohio recommends that figure should be closer to 10 percent. Local dollars have traditionally made up more than half of public transit funding in Ohio, including fare revenue and federal funding.

"The state transportation and operating budgets for 2018-19 continue to inadequately fund public transit and it threatens to get even worse," wrote Victoria Jackson and Wendy Patton, the report's authors.

In a statement emailed to WCPO, Cordray said through spokesman Mike Gwin, "As governor, I'll work with local governments and businesses to leverage investments from the state so we can support public transit and connect Ohioans to jobs and greater economic opportunity."

Cordray did not say how much more money he would push for toward transit, nor did he specify how he would engage the General Assembly's allocation -- or lack thereof -- of funds toward public transit. The assembly sets the yearly budget for all the state's departments.

As for local roads and bridges, the Western Hills Viaduct and the Brent Spence corridor stand out as bridge projects with a hefty price tag but no clear source of funding yet.

Just one day prior to Cordray's announcement, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, celebrated what he called a victory on Capitol Hill, where the Senate just passed an appropriations bill that would bring roughly $100 million for transportation and infrastructure funding to the state.

Cordray's announcement outlined some other details -- some specific, some more vague -- of his plan to bolster the Buckeye State's aging infrastructure, including:

  • re-open the state's Washington office for advocating its infrastructure needs
  • a state-wide data exchange portal for transportation and infrastructure projects
  • invest in walkable neighborhoods and "micro-transit" (like smaller commuter buses or carpooling services)
  • establish a state Office of Connectivity to oversee broadband expansion
  • create a funding plan to preserve the quality of Ohio's water

Cordray is running against current Attorney General in Ohio, Mike DeWine. DeWine's campaign website does not outline an agenda surrounding transportation, transit or infrastructure issues.

DeWine's spokesman, Joshua Eck, told WCPO that the Republican has received endorsements from "a number of industry-leading groups who know he is the best candidate for Ohio’s infrastructure future." 

Eck criticized Cordray's plan, saying, "This is a common theme in the Cordray campaign -- a long list of spending proposals with no way to pay for it."

In his release, Cordray said he would put a bond issue before Ohio voters to fund these initiatives.

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