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ODOT-rescinded money stifles new COTA route

Students and employees of local hospitals and universities can no longer look forward to riding Central Ohio Transit Authority’s Health-Education Line, a new line originally planned for September.

The Ohio Department of Transportation decided Tuesday to rescind $10 million that was previously set aside for the New Service Starts program. Nine programs, including COTA’s Health-Education Line, have been cut from the budget, said David Rose, public information officer for ODOT.

COTA spokesperson Beth Berkemer said COTA cannot move forward with the Health-Education Line as planned.

“We are disappointed. Whenever it comes to losing the opportunity to provide additional service, we’re always going to be disappointed,” Berkemer said. “We wish that we could provide this service still, but at this point we just can’t.”

The Health-Education Line was going to be a 9.6-mile route that connected local universities and hospitals to one another.

The line would have connected OhioHealth at Riverside Methodist Hospital, the OSU Medical Center, Columbus State Community College, Columbus College of Art and Design, Grant Medical Center, Franklin University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Included in the original plan, COTA was going to purchase four new buses and hire roughly 20 new drivers.

“We hope to revisit this in the future because it is a really great and unique opportunity to have this service out there,” Berkemer said. “At this point in time we cannot move forward with it, without that funding support.”

Berkemer said she did not know when they might revisit the possibility of adding the Health-Education Line.

“I have no idea when we would be able to consider this, and at this point in time, it’s really going to come down to funding and when we are able to find funds that we can allocate to this project.”

Last fall, former Gov. Ted Strickland pledged $50 million a year to public-transit agencies for the next three years. Rose said for the 2011 fiscal year, however, ODOT decided to use only $40 million of the $50 million pledged.

Rose said the New Service Starts program was budgeted to be $10 million of the $50 million, and the entire program had been cut.

“Just the $10 million is currently being rescinded. None of the new services have started,” Rose said.

Rose also said that in the following two years, ODOT will only use $20 million annually, instead of the $50 million pledged. 

The $20 million a year, although less than promised, is a 41 percent increase from the 2009 budget.

The three-year budget has now been reduced from $150 million to $80 million. Rose said the $10 million that was rescinded had not yet been awarded. COTA was originally awarded about $3.2 million through the New Service Starts program.

Other organizations that had their program money rescinded include the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, the city of Lancaster, the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority, the Western Reserve Transit Authority, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County and the Butler County Regional Transit Authority.


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