All Aboard Ohio has this releas
Largely unnoticed by the public in last week’s stimulus announcement by the Ohio Department of Transportation was a $7 million allocation for developing the Ohio Hub passenger and freight rail system. That amount will be used by Ohio Rail Development Commission to conduct Programmatic Environmental Impact Studies of four corridors; making them eligible for federal high-speed rail funds:
• Cleveland – Cincinnati
• Cleveland – Pittsburgh
• Cleveland – Toledo
• Toledo – Columbus
“All Aboard Ohio is pleased that this funding was awarded,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “With these funds, ORDC will be able to respond to interest in passenger rail development throughout the state and advance the planning to where fast passenger trains are eligible to receive federal funds.”
To be eligible for federal construction funds, a transportation project must go through a project development process as proscribed by the National Environmental Policy Act. That process requires that an environmental impact statement (EIS) be prepared before federal funding can be approved for a project.
An EIS identifies and assesses the impacts of acquiring property, laying tracks, building stations or other physical improvements that could affect natural or built environments. Impacts could include private property acquisitions, owner/user displacements, structural demolitions plus vehicular noise, vibration or emissions affecting nearby historic sites and sensitive natural areas like wetlands or wildlife preserves.
Each EIS, which could take a year to complete, will then recommend mitigation strategies to achieve a finding of no significant impact from the U.S. Department of Transportation. All Aboard Ohio understands that the four EIS analyses may be undertaken simultaneously.
Often, capital investments made within existing transportation rights of way can receive a categorical exclusion from having to conduct an environmental impact analysis. That may be the case with the planned Cleveland – Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati (3-C) Corridor Amtrak startup service as it will use existing freight rail rights of way. But that’s probably as far as passenger rail development in Ohio can advance without the EIS, Prendergast said.