National Transportation Group Recommends Strategies for Retrofitting and Rebuilding Roads to Incorporate Green Infrastructure

July 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has released an Urban Street Stormwater Guide, offering city officials recommendations for adopting “green,” as opposed to “grey,” infrastructure solutions to improve streets’ ability to handle rainwater runoff. The recommendations on stormwater infrastructure complement many of NACTO’s transportation priorities, such as investing in complete streets that are accessible to all users. NACTO notes the cost-effectiveness of green infrastructure, and explains the ecological, social, and regulatory benefits of its usage. In the guide, NACTO shares some of the best practices being used around the country, where engineers and public officials have taken steps to incorporate green infrastructure into systems that are already in place.  The memo shows how far green infrastructure has come in the last 20 years: from an afterthought, to mainstream best practice. 

According to NACTO, 60 percent of urban areas are made up of some kind of impervious surface, such as concrete, meaning that water and other liquids cannot seep into the surface. Green infrastructure offers an alternative, whereby there is more surface area for water to go in the event of a storm. Green infrastructure comes in many different forms, including structures such as rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs, and is a rare asset to cities because unlike most resources, green infrastructure actually appreciates over time because as plants grow larger they become stronger and more effective.

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Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio

In alignment with NACTO, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) supports policies to modernize Ohio’s sewer and water infrastructure. In 2016, GOPC published a memo assessing the benefits that green infrastructure provides to communities in terms of cost and effectiveness, and analyzes some regional case studies. Many Ohio cities use green infrastructure to divert stormwater from antiquated combined sewer systems that overflow in large storms, dumping wastewater into rivers.  For example, it is far cheaper to create more parks and bioswales than it is to excavate a deep tunnel that can store millions of gallons of runoff.  Earlier in 2017, GOPC released Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy, which explores innovative strategies for modernizing the system in Ohio. Visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

In the Urban Street Stormwater Guide, NACTO advocates for local governments to include green stormwater infrastructure into their formal policies and plans, which could include Green Streets Policies, specific stormwater codes and regulations, and developer incentives to expand green design practices. The guide also includes technical suggestions for retrofitting green infrastructure into streets, along with successful methods to execute comprehensive street reconstruction. Throughout the process of introducing a green infrastructure project, NACTO firmly recommends that city officials understand and evaluate variables such as the health of the watershed, existing infrastructure, flood zones, regulatory requirements, and current land use and zoning codes.

See NACTO’s report here and visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

 

Connecting People to Jobs: The Economics of Job Hubs and Employment Access

July 19th, 2017

Glue Cleveland Tour 229

 

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Recent studies have shown that over the past two decades or more, more land is being used today, expanding the places where jobs are located, but this is occurring without a net increase in population or jobs. This new type of urban sprawl, known as “no-growth sprawl,” has the effect of separating workers from the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Cleveland is one of those cities where this has been an especially troubling trend. Now, a number of groups are working on solutions to the problem of erasing the disconnect between people and jobs. 

Fund for Our Economic Future (“The Fund”), working in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and Team NEO, has been examining the concentration of jobs hubs in Northeast Ohio and the benefits and challenges they present to the region. Job hubs are specific places of concentrated economic activity in a city or region, with specific focus on where “traded sector” companies are located in the region. Traded sector companies are organizations that can sell their goods and services outside of the local economy.  The Fund examined job concentration centers in the five counties that make up the NOACA area, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina Counties, and identified 23 job hubs. These include obvious locations such as Downtown Cleveland, but others as well, including places are far away from the city as Oberlin to the west and Middlefield to the east.

The disbursement of these jobs hubs is at the center of the research the Fund is currently reviewing. Half of the traded sector employment was found to be in a jobs hub in the region.  These jobs are very much in demand and are needed for the local, state and national economy. Additionally, these are jobs that traditionally provide higher income and greater career opportunity than typical service employment jobs. As these hubs move further and further from population centers, transporting people to the jobs is becoming an increasing problem. A survey conducted  by Team NEO found that, when asked to rate what was the biggest challenge to making new employees successful, the most popular answer among employers was employees showing up to work on time and being ready to work when they got there.

This is not to suggest that job hubs are bad things – as the Fund points out, when job hub are integrated into a regional growth strategy, they can improve economic competitiveness and increase opportunities for residents who are currently disconnected from jobs[i]. The biggest obstacle that job hubs present is ensuring that workers have access to these locations. The current pattern of growth that Northeast Ohio and other regions of the state have experienced is increased costs of both time and money for residents. Research by the Brookings Institute shows that the number of jobs within a typical commuting distance fell by 26 percent between 2000 and 2012, which is among the worse measurable rates in the nation[ii]. Furthermore, the research shows many Ohioans spend a disproportionate amount of their income on transportation as opposed to housing[iii].

Most concerning of all is that the Fund’s research shows that 25 percent of Cleveland residents do not have access either to a vehicle they own or, in increasing numbers, to public transportation[iv]. Hence, the challenge the Fund and others face is finding a solution to connect people who lack transportation to job locations, where employers find that their biggest struggle is finding workers who can get to work on time and be ready to work.

Transit agencies statewide are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demands for public transit. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) is working with groups like Fund for Our Economic Future to ensure that sufficient funding is available for public transportation and that service is designed to ensure that workers can be connected with jobs. For more resources on GOPC’s work in this area, please see our Transportation Modernization webpage.

 

[i]  Fund for Our Economic Future: Why Job Hubs are Important

[ii]Fund for Our Economic Future: Job Access

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Governing Magazine: Car Ownership Numbers

 

Neighborhood Stabilization and Regrowth Strategies from Weinland Park and Beyond

June 29th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

Cleveland and Dayton 052

Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) staff attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) session Lessons from Weinland Park. The session was moderated by Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik and featured guests Michael Wilkos of the Columbus Foundation, Carla Williams-Scott of the City of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, and Eve Picker, a city planner and community development strategist from Pittsburgh. The CMC session followed the release of OSU’s Kirwan Institute’s release of its findings from a recent survey done on the redevelopment of Weinland Park, a Columbus neighborhood which sits just east of Ohio State’s campus.

Wilkos began by explaining the importance of focusing on both people and place simultaneously, as a means of successfully committing to revitalizing an underserved area. Too much effort to rebuild the physical environment of the area could lead to the displacement of residents who perhaps become priced out, while efforts with excessive focus on guiding residents themselves could lead to them leaving the neighborhood for new opportunities, which would leave behind others. Wilkos noted that the Weinland Park Collaborative has been critical in ensuring that Weinland Park’s revitalization has seen both people and place-focused approaches. Williams-Scott added that the City operates at neighborhood level with residents’ opinions as a top priority, which is a necessary feature of any successful revitalization strategy.

Despite all of Weinland Park’s progress over the last few decades, Wilkos stressed that there is still a lot of work to do in the neighborhood. In 2014, GOPC released, with support from the Columbus Foundation, Achieving Healthy Neighborhoods: the impact of housing investments in Weinland Park. That report found that the neighborhood has exhibited increased housing and overall economic stability but that it has a long way to go to become fully a sustainable area. Since 2013, the market has rapidly strengthened in Weinland Park, yet many challenges still persist for some residents, especially families who are still in poverty. On a positive note, the recent Kirwan study concluded that, in general residents believe that the neighborhood is improving.  However 51% of residents still rely on government assistance, and the high rate of people who rent is unchanged from 2010, when their last study was conducted. Wilkos emphasized that because incomes are generally stagnant, it is increasingly difficult for families to pay an affordable rate for housing in a market where living costs are constantly rising.

Lastly, Williams-Scott discussed the City of Columbus’ work in the neighborhoods of Linden and the Hilltop. While there are important lessons that can be learned from the Weinland Park undertaking, she noted there are unique circumstances in Linden and the Hilltop, such as the absence of having an anchor institution like Ohio State right in their backyard. In general, the City’s focus in underserved neighborhoods is on increasing employment opportunities and expanding access to transportation. GOPC works with state and local partners and supports policies that boost multimodal transportation systems and thus expand access to jobs. As Williams-Scott noted, it is of paramount importance that workers and potential workers have a reliable means of transportation in order to get to job sites.

 

First Workshop of 2017 Ohio Transportation Academy Explores Regional Visions

June 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

In partnership with Transportation for America (T4A), Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) began the 2017 Ohio Transportation Local Leadership Academy last week, bringing together leaders from various cities and regions around the state to equip them with ideas for local transportation solutions. Private, public, and nonprofit-sector representatives from Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Delaware, Hamilton, Lorain, and Toledo came together at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) headquarters in Columbus, for the first of six Academy sessions.

Workshop 1, titled “Achieving Regional Visions through Transportation,” opened with Beth Osborne, T4A Vice President for Technical Assistance, and Alison Goebel, GOPC Executive Director. Osborne highlighted the crucial role that transportation plays in today’s economy, noting demographic shifts, such as younger workers choosing to live in more walkable transit-rich areas, and also the reality that employers need broad access to workers. Goebel showcased some of the recent achievements of Ohio’s cities and regions, such as the doubling of jobs over a six-year period along Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Health Line. In light of these recent successes, Goebel encouraged participants to think creatively locally, given that state and federal support for transportation is often unpredictable.

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Beth Osborne, of Transportation for America, speaking during the Academy

The Academy welcomed three engaging speakers from the Indianapolis area to discuss their region’s recent transportation reform via an initiative called IndyConnect. Former Mayor Greg Ballard and Mark Fisher of the Indy Chamber discussed their coalition-led project, culminating with a successful ballot initiative that allowed for the broadening and expansion of multimodal transportation, creating new electric BRT lines, and boosting support for other bus, bike, and pedestrian modes. Nicole Barnes of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), an organization that was part of the coalition, then discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in terms of creating convincing messaging for different key audiences. All three speakers explained that convincing people to vote to expand modes of transportation that some voters perhaps personally may never use should rely on the underlying theme that improved transportation is a crucial economic development tool that connects more hardworking employees with jobs in a more efficient process, which in turn produces secondary benefits to the economy.

During various breakout sessions throughout the day, participants enthusiastically discussed their regions’ goals and how building stronger local transportation systems can help them achieve these goals. Future sessions will continue to build upon these shared goals and visions for Ohio’s regions. Thank you to all participants and staff for a successful first workshop. GOPC would also like to extend a big thank you to MORPC for graciously hosting the first Academy workshop.

Guests of Ann Fisher Show Discuss Emerging Land Use Trends Revealed in New ULI Report and Implications on Housing Affordability, Transportation

June 5th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has issued a new national report titled Housing in the Evolving American Suburb, which assesses general trends in housing, income, demographics within urban and suburban areas throughout the country. Stockton Williams, an author of the report, recently appeared on the All Sides with Ann Fisher radio show to discuss emerging patterns in housing and land use and to offer insight on the report findings’ implications for Ohio, and Columbus in particular. Williams was joined on the show by Rob Vogt of Vogt Strategic Insights, who emphasized the value of boosting transportation options in Ohio as a means of confronting suburbanization challenges detailed in the report.

As many analyses have shown, the growth of suburbs came largely at the expense of downtown areas in the post-war years; one of the main discoveries of the ULI report is that today many regions exhibit suburban and urban growth simultaneously. Speakers on the show mentioned that Columbus, for instance, has seen job and population increases largely throughout suburban and city areas over the past few years. While this rise often manifests in many large cities, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) has found that over the last few decades, many smaller cities in Ohio have seen a decline in key indicators of economic health in both suburban and urban areas. GOPC’s 2016 report From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?, which analyzes the economic health of smaller and mid-sized cities in Ohio, shows that this dual suburban-urban growth has yet to take off in many Ohio cities. In fact, the state’s smaller legacy cities and their surrounding metro areas experienced declines in population and labor force participation along with increased poverty rates during pre-(2000-2009) and post-recession (2009-2014) time periods.

Hb 463 webinar pic

Contrary to some popular thought, suburban areas in the US are still highly inhabited. In fact, 79 percent of the US population lives in suburbs, according to the ULI report. However, as a result of the growing popularity for the younger generation to move to urban environments, urban living costs have generally gone up, and thus many families in Ohio in turn are forced to re-locate into less-costly suburban neighborhoods. As a result of this movement, speakers on the radio show explain that transportation challenges represent a substantial barrier for many families who now live in Ohio’s suburbs, because public transportation is generally less comprehensive in these areas. GOPC strongly supports policies to build a robust network of public transportation throughout Ohio’s cities and metros as a tool for economic development, whereby potential workers have a reliable means of getting to a job. To do this, Williams emphasized the need to explore ways to improve bus service and build on current public transportation systems. Guests also discussed multimodal transportation’s related benefits, such as a relaxed demand for parking and lower traffic congestion.

A discussion of the changing housing patterns and preferences along with increasing home prices and rents also feature heavily in ULI’s report. During the radio show, Fisher referred to a statistic in a report GOPC co-authored with the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO) titled The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models, noting that there are over 46,000 renters in central Ohio who pay over 50% of their income on housing costs. According to Vogt, this staggering number of people considered to be “severely housing cost burdened” is reflected throughout the country, and is a function of both the price of housing and annual incomes. To narrow this gap, one example of an affordable housing solution that Williams recommends is inclusionary zoning. This tool enables a local government to incentivize a private developer to build market rate housing with some mix of below-market units in a specific area. The report GOPC co-authored with AHACO highlights inclusionary zoning and developer incentives in Denver, Colorado as successful and potentially replicable models for expanding affordable housing.

Read ULI’s Report Here

 

Ohio’s FY2018-19 Main Operating Budget Moves to Next Stage; GOPC Offers Recommendations

May 18th, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Recently, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a drastically different two-year state budget from the one proposed by Governor John Kasich in January. The House budget included roughly $632 million in reductions due to decreased state revenue collections, and so far for the fiscal year FY2016-17, receipts are $773.7 million, or 4.2 percent, below projections. This followed an announcement in April by state leaders that the budget would need to be revised downward by roughly $800 million for the next biennium (FY2018-19).

With passage of the House version, the budget now moves to the Ohio Senate, where additional reductions will be needed to meet the $800 million in cuts. The deadline to approve the budget is June 30, when the current state fiscal year (FY2017) ends. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) continues to testify on several changes to be made in HB49, including the following provisions. 

GOPC-Supported Provisions:

- The budget bill provides $4.8 million in annual funding over the biennium for lead remediation and associated testing services for homes under lead hazard orders, ensuring that more properties are made safe for families. This will be done through the use of federal funding available to the state.  GOPC is pleased by the state’s commitment on this important issue and encourages the Legislature to ensure local lead abatement programs are empowered to utilize the funding.

GOPC-Opposed Provisions:

- A House amendment would mandate stickers be affixed to retail service station pumps displaying the rates of federal and state taxes applicable to gasoline and diesel fuel. The stickers would be produced and distributed by the Department of Agriculture at an unknown cost. All pumps would be required to have the stickers affixed within 14 months of the bills effective date and would need to be replaced if damaged or if the state or federal tax rates change. 

- The House reduced funding for public transportation by more than 11% per year for both FY2018 and 2019. This line item provides funding for the Public Transportation Grant Program and the Elderly and Disabled Fare Assistance Program. This line item has been reduced by more than 68% or $17,969,134, since FY2000. 

GOPC’s Proposed Amendments to the Bill:

- GOPC proposes an amendment to make it easier for cities to clean up contaminated brownfield sites.  The proposal would modify Ohio law to make it clear that urban renewal projects can recover the costs of environmental remediation. In an urban renewal project, a municipality and a developer create a development agreement to mitigate a blighted area.  After development begins, the property owner makes service payments in lieu of taxes, based on the increased valuation of the property.  Service payments support bonds that have been issued to support redevelopment costs.

- The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has issued a directive that Ohio cannot continue applying state and local sales taxes on the premiums of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations. HB49 provides for a new service fee to be charged to make-up for lost state revenue, while only providing partial, temporary financial relief to counties and transit agencies. GOPC supports the inclusion of a provision in HB49 that will extend greater financial relief to counties and transit agencies. 

For more complete coverage of the Main Operating Budget, please visit here.

Infrastructure Week Highlights Urgent Need to Invest in our Declining Transportation and Water and Sewer Systems

May 15th, 2017

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Infrastructure Week is May 15 – 19, 2017.  GOPC considers infrastructure, especially transportation and water infrastructure, to be vital components of Ohio’s economic revitalization agenda.  During Infrastructure Week, groups across the nation are holding events and doing everything they can to draw attention to the unacceptable condition of the nation’s infrastructure.  Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives U.S. infrastructure a grade of “D+”.  Although the term “infrastructure” usually brings to mind surface transportation – roads, bridges, and railways – the ASCE’s concerns extend to many forms of infrastructure that make a modern economy work, including drinking water and wastewater systems, air travel, ports, and the electrical transmission grid.   The ASCE estimates that underinvestment will cause the average family to lose $3,400 each year as a result of infrastructure deficiencies. 

As seen in the chart below, public sector spending on infrastructure declined from nearly 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the late 1950s to just above 2.5% today.  Although federal policy definitely shapes overall societal policy choices (e.g., the interstate highway system), the chart also makes it clear that states and local governments have been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to infrastructure spending, and probably will continue to do so in the future.  Federal outlays in recent years been about 0.6% of GDP, about one-fourth the state and local government total.

 Infrastructure Spending as a Percentage of U.S. GDP

infrastructure chart

Source: GOPC analysis of BEA and CBO data.

Across the country, states are doing what they can to take charge of their own destiny, including finding ways to pay for what they need to improve transportation.  Most states, and the federal government, rely on gasoline excise taxes to pay for surface transportation.  For many years, discussions about raising the gasoline tax were off the table at both the state and federal levels.  The federal gasoline tax has not been raised since 1993; Ohio’s has been the same since 2005.  This inaction meant that state transportation budgets have failed to keep pace with inflation, putting more pressure on their ability to perform basic maintenance.  As the economy has improved, however, state leaders have put together coalitions to support improved funding.  Since 2012, nearly half the states have adjusted their approaches to taxing gasoline.  Some of the most recent to move in this direction in 2017, including Indiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee, are generally considered to be fiscally conservative states.  These changes at the state level may build momentum for a reexamination of transportation funding at the federal level. 

The country’s focus on infrastructure is not only an opportunity to rebuild, but also to improve and rethink what we need to be successful in the 21st Century, as GOPC outlined in a Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed.  Proceeds from the state gasoline tax in Ohio are constitutionally required to be spent on highways, and do not address the needs of Ohio’s residents for public transit or alternative modes of travel such as biking or walking.  Despite an increased transfer of federal funds to public transit in the Ohio Department of Transportation budget, Ohio’s overall state level of support for public transit is minimal compared to that of other states.  GOPC believes that future state transportation reform should include a dedicated revenue source for public transit that will help local transit authorities design the kind of flexible and affordable systems that Ohioans deserve. 

 

Driverless cars could be the attractive future but public transportation is the vital present

May 8th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Many states across the country, including Ohio, have begun to embrace the idea that driverless cars will soon represent an exciting, safe, and more efficient alternative to human-controlled vehicles. Last year, Columbus was awarded the federal Smart Cities grant, which pledges millions of federal dollars to be invested in new technologies for driverless cars. While autonomous vehicles may eventually solve some of the transportation challenges Ohio faces once their usage is proven to be safe and effective, leaders in the state should focus their efforts today on expanding and strengthening public transit. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) believes that Ohio must prioritize investment in the existing transportation system, where the technology already exists to safely and efficiently transport people to jobs, doctors, and grocery stores.

While autonomous vehicles may one day rule the road, it is imperative that Ohio develops transportation solutions for residents who seek a means of mobility in the short-term. Public transit is a proven form of transportation that if invested in properly, can produce a number of economic development benefits for residents and businesses within communities of all types. Ohio’s population is aging and many residents, especially those living in rural areas, do not have reliable access to a car to get to job opportunities, medical appointments, family, and the grocery store. Because Ohio’s land usage pattern is defined by sprawling communities, residential areas are often located far from job sites and thus qualified individuals are unable to fill positions at companies seeking their talents. Improving transit service through, for instance, regionalization, will ameliorate these difficulties by connecting workers with key destinations and allow them to participate in Ohio’s economy.

Cota on high st

However, there is a glaring shortage of good-working public transportation buses and vans in Ohio. As the Ohio Department of Transportation Transit Needs Study notes, 27 counties in Ohio do not even operate a public transit network, which means that many people rely on health and human service transportation functions to get to important destinations. Even within the transit agencies that do offer service, over a third of the 3,240 vehicles are beyond their useful life, yet they are still on the roads. As demand grows among all age groups, investment in the system is even more crucial. By 2025, the Transit Needs Study estimates that an additional $562 million in annual funding will be needed to meet the future demand for public transit statewide.

Given the general level of uncertainty surrounding driverless cars, leaders at all level of government and business should concentrate efforts on existing transportation systems. At the moment, 74 percent of Americans simply do not believe driverless cars will be safe to use. Until the public has demonstrated it trusts the new technology, it would be premature to pool resources into a system with so many lingering questions. Even if Ohioans do at some point accept autonomous vehicles as a viable alternative to driver-operated cars, it is unlikely that their costs, at least initially, will make them accessible to a wide cohort of citizens. Thus, the proliferation of the technology would likely do little to help residents who struggle to find a way to get to doctor’s appointments. By supporting a robust, modernized public transportation system, Ohio’s leaders can build a successful, fluid network of travel for workers and residents throughout the state.

For more resources on transportation policy affecting Ohio’s cities and regions, please visit GOPC’s Transportation Modernization webpage

 

Urban Expert Richard Florida Warns of Deepening Crisis of Cities But Believes Mayors Can Help Reverse Course

April 25th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Last week, University of Toronto professor and urban theorist Richard Florida delivered a series of lectures in Columbus. In front of a large crowd at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium, he spoke about his new book, The New Urban Crisis, which describes the worrying decline of the middle class in cities throughout America. After highlighting the major points of the book, Florida asked questions about solving the new urban crisis to Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther, Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik, and former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams.

Florida argues that whereas the urban crises of past decades manifested in the outward movement of people and wealth from city centers into the suburbs, today’s urban crisis is marked by a growing wealth and opportunity gap throughout neighborhoods in cities, including Columbus. While the vestiges of the old urban crisis continue to live on, Florida sees a startling inequality both between various cities and even within cities. Today, a “winner-take-all urbanism” has emerged that sharpens the contrast between “winner” and “loser” cities. As young, talented, and educated, people seek to work together on innovative ideas, they cram themselves together in those areas of concentrated resources and wealth. Even within “winner” cities, suburban areas, along with some traditional urban areas, have experience marked decline and poverty while economic cleavages between neighborhoods have become more pronounced.

Check out Greater Ohio Policy Center’s (GOPC) new blog series on shrinking cities

To combat this modern crisis, Florida believes that mayors must be given the political and fiscal tools to develop local solutions, instead of following a one-size-fits-all federal urban policy, which Florida admits he previously championed. Devolving more responsibility to mayors recognizes the reality of deep social and political differences in America, which were conspicuous during the last presidential election, and allows mayors and community leaders to promote urban policies unique to their cities. In alignment with this idea, Williams believes that Youngstown should take the unconventional step of embracing its “shrinkage,” rather than expending energy on attempts to attract new residents. To do this, the city must develop policies that accept the nature of population decline while seeking to capitalize on the great ideas and creativity already flourishing in Youngstown.

Richard Florida lecture OSU

 Seated Left to Right: Williams, Mihalik, Ginther, and Florida

Ginther, Mihalik, and Florida expressed that improving and expanding local public transportation systems will help boost economic opportunity for struggling families. For residents in many neighborhoods in Columbus, a lack of reliable transportation imposes a barrier to employers and the potential employees seeking work. In Findlay, Mihalik notes that over half of the city’s workforce actually commutes from outside Hancock County; as a result, many people are pushing for bolstering public transportation. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) supports efforts to connect Ohioans to job opportunities by improving public transportation networks throughout the state.

While many people are encumbered by today’s often divisive national politics, Florida sees less partisanship and more willingness among stakeholders to work together to achieve results at the local level. Florida notes that when he meets mayors, he usually has little idea or concern about whether they are Republican or Democrat, because party identity is less defining of the policies mayors pursue. Mihalik emphasizes the idea that mayors can elevate important public policy discussions, and should do more to promote civil dialogue among citizens. She also believes that leaders need to offer more potential solutions to problems, rather than simply criticizing what they think needs to be fixed. In sum, combining mayoral action with citizen input will help expand economic opportunity for more Ohioans.

 

Pending Congressional Approval, Federal Budget Will Cut Important Transportation Grant Program

April 13th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Under the Trump administration’s recent budget proposal, a crucial grant program supporting capital investment for transportation projects across Ohio and the country is slated to be abolished. The federal program known as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants are earmarked to be eliminated, unless the House and Senate budget bills reverse the provision doing away with the program. Funding for TIGER, a program that was developed in 2009 as part of the federal Recovery Act, is allocated to state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and local jurisdictions by Congress following a merit-based award process. Should Congress decide to scrap the program, some planned transit, rail, and bike and pedestrian projects in Ohio could fail to produce the funds necessary for completion.

Since 2009, TIGER grants have funneled over $4 billion to a variety of innovative transportation projects around the country, including transit, rail, port, road, and bike and pedestrian. Since the program’s inception, the annual program budget has declined over time, reducing the number of awarded projects, while applications have ramped up. The US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) latest round of TIGER grant awards, known as TIGER VII, are set to deliver $500 million to various projects nationwide. In total, this amount will support 39 capital projects in 33 states. However, award amounts have been slowly declining since the initial TIGER I, which funded 51 separate capital projects in the form of $1.5 billion in award money.

Downtown overhead

Akron’s downtown promenade was awarded a $5 million TIGER capital grant in 2016. Photo credit: AkronStock 

TIGER grants are immensely important in Ohio, where they offer needed funding assistance to multi-modal projects that would struggle to generate the necessary funding otherwise. For example, in 2015 $6.8 million was awarded to Ohio to divide among sparsely-funded public transit agencies in rural areas of the state such as Athens, Wilmington, Chillicothe, Knox, Lancaster, Marion, Logan, and others. Moreover, the Opportunity Corridor project, which is a path designed for transit, bikes, and pedestrians in northeast Ohio, along with the downtown promenade in Akron, have enjoyed the fruits of grant awards in recent years. In total, Ohio has received over $79 million from the TIGER program for transportation projects (see the table below for a year-by-year breakdown).

The success of the program is manifested by the substantial local investment it has spurred. USDOT calculates that TIGER’s initial investment has leveraged $1.74 billion in matching funds by state and local actors, including the private and public sectors contributing to the completion of the project. However, due to the program’s widespread appeal, acquiring TIGER grants have become increasingly more difficult. As local transportation projects face a dwindling supply of resources, the TIGER program has become more competitive given the increasing demand. Subsequently, many advocates have called for an expansion of the program to aid local governments in finishing important projects.

Scrapping the program entirely would represent a big blow to public transportation systems in Ohio in particular, given many local systems are insufficiently supported. The Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) 2015 Transit Needs Study estimates that Ohio’s public transportation systems suffer from a $192.5 million dollar funding shortfall in combined capital and operations needs. Moreover, the study finds that the state of Ohio spends just 63 cents per capita on public transportation over the course of each year, ranking Ohio 38th in the nation in its investment in this crucial policy area.

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) believes that Ohio’s recently-passed transportation budget, which includes a $10 million increase in flex funding for public transportation, is a positive step to modernizing the state’s transportation system. However, local systems will continue to struggle to meet the demands of riders, and the possible federal elimination of the TIGER program will increase the financial strain on cash-strapped agencies that are seeking the funds to ensure they can properly invest in their capital systems as well as operate sufficiently.

For more resources on transportation policy affecting Ohio’s cities and regions, please visit GOPC’s Transportation Modernization webpage.

 

TIGER Grants Total Award Amounts in Ohio

2009: $20 million

2010: $10.5 million

2011: $12.5 million

2012: $16 million

2013: no award

2014: $400,000

2015: $6.8 million

2016: $12.9 million

Grand Total: $79.1 million