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Streetcars Could Be In The Future For Downtown Columbus; Group Looks At Route Options

The idea for an alternate public transportation system in Columbus has been tossed around for some time - and with very little action. But there's a group putting ideas together for a streetcar line that would run in the downtown area. The proposal could be presented to the mayor and the city council in just a few months.

The Downtown Streetcar Working Group is considering three possible streetcar routes. Working group chair, Retired Admiral Dennis McGinn, said there were several criterion to determine the three routes.

"It has to spur and sustain desirable economic development, attract jobs and people to downtown, increase property values, and stimulate pedestrian activity. That was goal one. Goal two was to connect downtown destinations with residents, workers and visitors. And goal three was to be an affordable and viable system, and to ensure our community can afford to build and operate a streetcar system," McGinn said.

McGinn said all three of those requirements must work together for a streetcar system to succeed in downtown Columbus.

One route would run along High Street, from Frankfort Street, in the German Village area, to Buttles Avenue in the Short North. A second route would run along High Street, again, from Frankfort Street to 11th Avenue and could possibly be extended up to 17th Avenue near Ohio State University. The last option would zigzag through parts of downtown, from Washington to Neil Avenues, touching Broad and Spring Streets and Nationwide Boulevard.

But installing a streetcar system is much more complicated than simply choosing a route. Greg Comfort is managing partner of EMH&T, a Columbus-based civil engineering firm. Comfort says he'll focus on the cost of the project.

"We're trying to uncover the various infrastructure issues that may or may not be there that can affect that cost. IE: what's underneath the pavement, water lines, water valves, gas lines, gas valves, sewer lines, man holes, all the things are buried that we either need to miss, move. And all that affects cost, and cost is important here," Comfort said.

Comfort said there is also overhead infrastructure to think about, like power lines and stop lights. He would not say which proposed route he thinks is best. But Comfort did say the one running along High Street from Frankfurt to Buttles looks like the least complicated.

The group will meet again in September, and McGinn said it could make a recommendation to Mayor Michael Coleman and the city council in October. If a recommendation is approved, Comfort said construction could be done quickly and with little disruption to downtown traffic.

"If we were allowed to do a phase close down, block by block, and you do it very quickly, you could probably get the whole thing done in a year's time if you pick one of the routes. If you go with multiple routes, it could be another year," Comfort said.

McGinn said there may be some uncertainty that a streetcar system could work in downtown Columbus. But he said that's because people may confuse it with light rail.

"People don't understand that we're talking about a downtown area, a circulator system, to connect people in the downtown area, not a way to into and out of downtown. But rather once you're there how to get around downtown better," McGinn said.

There was no talk about how much a streetcar project would cost.