Access Ohio 2045 meets in Marietta to hear feedback

Ohio is looking ahead 25 years to the state’s transportation needs, and on Thursday afternoon and early evening, representatives from Access Ohio 2045 were in Marietta to offer ideas and hear feedback.

Held at the Buckeye Hills Regional Council offices on Pike Street, it was the ninth of 10 regional meetings for the team.

“We were in Cincinnati yesterday, tomorrow we’re in Cleveland,” Scott Phinney said.

Phinney is the administrator of statewide planning and research for the Ohio Department of Transportation. He said three distinct concerns that came up at the Marietta meeting were the future of self-driving vehicles, expansion of rural transit and state strategy and support for “active transportation” – walking and bicycling.

“For Access Ohio 2045, we’re here to develop policies and principles for future needs, what strategies are needed,” he said. “We do state highways, but we also do transit, railways, airports. Collaboration has been a big theme. We’ve had private citizens here, along with organizations, agencies, a Congressional official.”

The plan has five broad components: safe, smart, connected, community-oriented and collaborative. Each component had a representative from consulting firm Cambridge Systematics. Sam Van Hecke explained that Cambridge was working with ODOT on leveraging technology like signal systems and travel information data to prepare the state for the advent of self-driving vehicles.

Susan Daniels, explaining the community oriented goal, said broadband access had been a point of discussion, and ODOT could have a role to play in better access for rural areas.

“The agency could offer its rights of way as an asset to solve that problem,” she said.

“Freedom used to be the key to a car. Now, it’s that kind of technology,” Phinney said, indicating a smartphone.

Marietta’s mayor-elect, Josh Schlicher, said he appreciated ODOT’s planning and effort to reach out to the city.

“I came to see their plans. In the past we’ve utilized a lot of state grants, for things like trails and intersections, roads. It would have been hard to do some these things without their help,” he said.

Cambridge representative Nate Brugler said there had been significant interest in the plan’s intent for walking and biking trails.

“There’s a lot of room for growth there, and the trails tend to be around features like rivers and hills that are good places to showcase an area,” he said.

Brett Allphin, development director for Buckeye Hills Regional Council, said the local interest in transit, broadband and alternative transportation was not unexpected. The council, he said, is involved in the project and ensuring that concerns of rural importance are included in the long-term strategy.

Transit, he said, is probably of even greater importance for rural residents than it is for their urban counterparts.

“Many of the people in this area are one flat tire away from being without transportation, they don’t have the money to get it fixed and they can’t get to work,” he said. “Rural areas like ours are predicated on automobiles, and if you don’t have a vehicle, your options are very limited.”

Washington County, he said, has an effective transit system, but many residents aren’t aware that it’s there.

“If it’s not a big, natural-gas powered bus that you catch at a bus stop and put coins in the box to ride, people think it isn’t transit,” he said. “Like a lot of communities, we have demand-response transit, where you call and a van or something that looks like an airport shuttle comes to your house. We have CABL (Community Action Bus Lines), but we also have organizations that transport people, like veterans or Jobs and Family Services clients, even churches. What we need is a more cohesive network. The challenge is coordinating those services.”

Allphin said broadband is another legitimate concern for the state transportation agency to consider.

“A key cost for expanding broadband is getting the rights of way,” he said. Negotiating rights of way through complexes of private property is both a continuing cost and a headache for broadband providers.

“Why not use assets that are already in the public realm?” he said, referring to the state’s highways. “It’s smart use of public good. We’ve been waiting 20 years for the market to do it.”

The 25-year planning strategy documents are available at Access.Ohio.gov, and Ohioans who want to participate in the plan can take a survey available on the site or send an email to the planning and strategy office.