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ODOT awards COTA $3.1 million for Health-Education Line

The Central Ohio Transit Authority is moving forward to implement a new bus route with a $3.1 million grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation, despite their application for $7.9 million.

The route, the Health-Education Line, is scheduled to be added in September, said Beth Berkemer, COTA representative.

ODOT announced Thursday afternoon that it awarded about $3.1 million to COTA for the making of the route. The money is provided through the Innovative New Service Starts Program, an award from ODOT given to public transit agencies. COTA applied for it Dec. 17.

The Health-Education Line is a 9.6-mile route connecting local universities and hospitals to one another, Berkemer said.

COTA said the bus will run daily from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The route will stop at Ohio Health 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.

“We are very supportive of the increased parking and traffic opportunities,” said Eric Kunz, associate vice president of health sciences at the OSU Medical Center. “We have interns, students and residents that work at other medical facilities around the city. … This route will enhance their options.”

In the application, COTA asked for $7.9 million, including a request to purchase nine new buses.

Berkemer said the lack of funding for the new buses will not change the route in any way. Berkemer explained that after so much use, COTA buses are taken out of commission on a case-by-case basis and auctioned off. The new plan says COTA will delay the decommissioning of several buses to operate the Health-Education Line.

As part of the award, ODOT approved COTA to purchase four new buses for the new route. Berkemer said COTA is planning to hire about 20 new drivers for the route.

About $1.5 million will be used to purchase the buses. The other $1.6 million will be used for operation and to hire new drivers.

“It came down to distribution of the funds,” Berkemer said. “They had $10 million to distribute.”

David Rose, the public information officer at ODOT, said 11 organizations, including COTA, were given funds through the Innovative New Service Starts Program.

Other organizations that received money include the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the City of Lancaster.

Berkemer estimates a total cost of $2.2 million to run the route in 2012. The following year, she estimates operating costs near $2.3 million.

Angela Mingo, the community relations director of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said she is in full support of the new bus route.

“This is an advantage for students and families that access the hospitals daily,” Mingo said. “It’s great to see another opportunity for them.” 

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