Glenn College Forum Highlights Improvements Necessary to Sustain Water, Transportation Infrastructure

September 26th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This month, GOPC was pleased to join with our colleagues at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) as a part of a panel discussion at the Glenn College Leadership Forum at The Ohio State University. The panel, Keeping Things Flowing: Water and Transportation Needs in the 21st Century, focused on the growing concern about infrastructure deterioration in the state and addressed ways in which local and state governments can identity and implement innovative strategies to take on these twin crises head-on.

Jon Honeck, Ph.D., Senior Policy Fellow with GOPC, presented on Ohio’s Water and Sewer infrastructure needs, with special focus on a growing issue that often is overlooked when considering this critical utility service, stormwater infrastructure. Most of Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure was installed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and especially in major metropolitan downtown areas, the systems have not been updated to meet the needs of growing populations and demands of the 21st Century. This is especially true of stormwater systems. With some studies suggesting that rain events are now producing more precipitation than they did even 20 to 30 years earlier, aging sewer systems that combine wastewater and stormwater are often overwhelmed, resulting in releases of raw sewage from aging systems into rivers and streams.

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Photo Credit: John Glenn College of Public Affairs

Estimates show that Ohio needs $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades alone between 2012 and 2032, in addition to another $12.1 billion for upgrades and replacing to the state’s drinking water systems over 20 years. That is a total of $26.2 billion in infrastructure needs in just 20 years, and that does not include costs to identify and replace lead pipes, which service an estimated 650,000 homes and businesses in the state.

Coming up with the necessary funding to upgrade this aging infrastructure is complicated by the elimination of federal grants for water and sewer systems in the 1980’s. The feds now provide revolving loans to local governments to assist in system repairs and upgrades, but local communities facing economic problems must repay the loans over time, which is an challenge many small communities in the state cannot afford.  

Among the potential solutions that could help to mitigate this future crisis that Honeck discussed during the forum include new financial tools which could provide either credit enhancements or loan guarantees for small communities that lack necessary funding resources, regionalization of water systems that encourages smaller communities to band together and pool limited resources to better afford work which needs to be done, public-private partnerships, and increased state funding in revolving loan funds and grant programs. 

Thea Walsh, the Director of Transportation Systems and Funding at MORPC, next provided an overview of Ohio’s transportation infrastructure and the needs it faces in order to maintain the state’s competitive edge.  Ohio’s interstate highway system is the 12th largest in the nation, and ranks 5th in overall traffic volume and 4th in truck traffic volume. Ohio boasts the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation.  Beyond roadways, Ohio also ranks 4th nationally in freight rail mileage, hosting 35 freight railroads and 5,305 miles of rail.

Despite these impressive statistics, the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Ohio’s 125,000 plus miles of roads a ‘D’, finding that 43% of Ohio’s roadways are in critical, poor, or fair condition. Of greater concern is a finding that 2,242 of the state’s 27,015 bridges (8% of total bridges), are structurally deficient. The overall cost to motorists in the state, the personal cost of driving on roads in need of repair, is $3.3 billion per year, which amounts to $413 per motorist.

Ohio receives a significant portion of its overall transportation funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which constitutes 45.1% of the Ohio Department of Transportation Revenue (FY12-14), while 32.9% is generated from the state motor fuel tax. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is supported from the federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline. That rate has remained unchanged since 1993. The state motor fuel tax is 28 cents per gallon of gasoline, and has remained unchanged since 2005. Moreover, because of constitutional limitations, this fuel tax revenue may only be used for highway construction, which precludes its usage toward public transportation projects. GOPC is constantly seeking ways of funding and modernizing all modes of transportation, including transit, biking, and walking.

Because the Federal Highway Administration has estimated that $170 billion in capital investment is needed annually to improve only roadways nationwide, it will be necessary in the future to increase revenue in order to make the required improvements. This will likely include raising fuel taxes, but also involve alternative sources of revenue as automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient and more vehicles that run on alternative sources (hybrid, electric) are operating on roadways.

One alternative that was discussed is a pilot program underway in the state of Oregon where individuals have volunteered to have tracking devices installed in their vehicles to track the number of miles they are traveling, and then paying per-mile fees to help fund highway and road construction and improvement. Other alternatives include the construction of new tolled infrastructure, an alternative that has been discussed to fund improvements on the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati (Ohio has approved the toll bridge, Kentucky has not) and public private partnerships.

It was clear from the discussion that difficult decisions will need to be made in the months and years ahead. Investment in the state’s critical infrastructure, including drinking water, stormwater, and transportation, is necessary for two reasons. First, it is of paramount importance to ensure public health and safety. Without improvement to the state’s water systems, Ohio runs the risk of seeing repeats of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan caused by lead contamination in the city’s water system, or the tragic failing of critical infrastructure such as the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis several years ago. Secondly, these systems are of critical importance to our state’s economy. Ohio is at the center of the nation’s economic livelihood, located within a day’s drive of 50 percent of the country’s population, with tens of thousands of jobs tied to transportation, manufacturing, and logistics. Investment in quality water and transportation systems will ensure Ohio’s economic stability in the years ahead.

 

View the PowerPoint presentation here

 

In Time for the RNC, Cleveland’s Public Square Renovation Showcases Fine Center-City Redevelopment

July 25th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

The redesign of Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Square, which was completed in June 2016 and just in time for the Republican National Convention (RNC), demonstrates impressive investment in a legacy city’s downtown core, to the long-term benefit of the public. The remodeling of the area has transformed the area from a mere intersection of traffic to an exemplary planning case study of intelligently recreated urban space for refined functionality and imagery. By creating more green spaces with park benches, walkable paths, the artistically-modeled area now exudes an atmosphere that is welcoming for visitors and passers-by.

Along with newly paved walkways, fresh green spaces, newly planted trees, and a fountain for kids to play in, the refurbished square features a brand new outdoor café for visitors to enjoy. Statues of the city’s founder and a former mayor have been preserved and repositioned in the square. For special events, as the RNC demonstrated, Public Square acts as the central hub where citizens can congregate to absorb ranging opinions at the “speakers’ platform” on the south end of the park.

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Cleveland Public Square revitalized. Photo credit: The Group Plan

The renovation of Public Square, overseen by the nonprofit city-county Group Plan Commission, in total cost $50 million. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, $37 million was spent on landscaping and $13 million was spent on reconstruction underground. A combination of government and private sources contributed to this project. As Greater Ohio Policy Center’s reports have argued, urban core investment will substantially improve the downtown area in many ways. Firstly, by attracting people who otherwise wouldn’t visit the area, commercial activity in the surrounding businesses will improve. Property values in the area will likely rise due to the public good of improved amenities such as green spaces. Lastly, as we saw with the RNC, the new area should act as a venue of bringing people together for events, such as the upcoming Cleveland Orchestra concert, where Clevelanders and visitors can interact and enjoy themselves.

 

Reflecting on a Successful Fellowship on Legacy City Revitalization at UChicago’s Institute of Politics

June 15th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director

I have recently returned from a two month fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a new nonpartisan entity designed to ignite a passion in students for politics and public service, where I taught the seminar, “Can America’s Older Industrial Cities Pull Off a Second Act?”  I drew heavily on the research and advocacy work that GOPC is doing with its many partners to drive economic prosperity in Ohio’s legacy cities (or older industrial cities), where quality of life and regrowth are challenged.

The seminar raised questions such as: how to distribute scarce resources for neighborhood revitalization; what is the role of large anchor institutions, like universities and hospitals, in generating neighborhood or economic development when that is not their primary mission; how are massive transportation and sewer and water infrastructure needs going to be financed; and how do we tailor policies and practices to account for the differences between large and small legacy cities.

But the challenge – either implicit or explicit — underlying all of these questions is that of the existing and growing economic divide in Ohio’s cities as well as other legacy cities, like Detroit, Gary, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as the percentage and numbers of middle income residents continue to decline.

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This phenomenon is not limited to legacy cities in this country, but the economic contrast is particularly stark in them and has profound societal and political consequences. For instance, UChicago, situated in the thriving Hyde Park neighborhood, is also a stone’s throw from other parts of Chicago’s South Side with remnants of older industrial past– closed manufacturing plants, some still operating factories —  resembling other Midwestern legacy cities.   If you didn’t know you were in America’s third largest city – and the largest and most prosperous city in the Midwest –  then you would think you were transported to a legacy city neighborhood with high levels of economic distress.  Contrast that with Chicago’s downtown and many of its adjacent neighborhoods with thriving commercial and residential districts.   Like legacy cities, Chicago, too, is experiencing increasing extremes in residential income levels and neighborhood conditions.

This trend is of deep concern not only for the residents living in these neighborhoods but also for residents in the more prosperous areas in the rest of Chicago as well as in these other cities — and our country. As our legacy cities rebound, let’s demonstrate economic regrowth practices that intentionally address this increasing economic gap, so they can be the leaders in solving and reversing this growing, pernicious national trend.   

CMC Forum Explores Urban Revitalization

May 2nd, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended Columbus Metropolitan Club’s panel on the way cities are working to attract and retain talent, and thrive in today’s economy. The session was moderated by OSU History Professor David Staley, who asked questions to Lee Fisher, President of CEO for Cities and Steve Schoeny of the Columbus Department of Development.

Fisher began the session by declaring that in the coming years, urbanization will be the single most important demographic change in the coming years, with many people choosing to move to cities. Today many cities struggle to provide the vehicles to fully use their talent, despite there being plenty of talent available. Attracting new talent, however, can only happen if cities have the tools for people to collaborate. Moreover, Schoeny believes that retaining talent is a big challenge for cities, as many young, educated people will look to move elsewhere. Schoeny emphasized the need to create places that connect housing with jobs, because people often choose to where to live before they decide where to work. This idea reflects GOPC’s support for place-based investment, to build off existing resources, and the idea that players should take advantage of the assets that already exist in Ohio’s cities.

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Schoeny believes that successful cities share three common features: they are dense, active, and connected. One key ingredient to all of these is having lively public spaces, such as parks and bike paths, where people can meet each other and share ideas. Fisher echoed this sentiment, declaring that active cities have at least 10 public spaces, which ultimately improve our health. Moreover, active communities, according to Schoeny, are incumbent on robust public transportation systems by expanding choices for everyone. GOPC concurs with this assessment and has been working in recent months to boost resources for multimodal transportation options.

GOPC Releases Memos Recommending Strategies to Reform Ohio’s Transportation Policy

March 15th, 2016

GOPC is a leading advocate for policy reforms that will support a diverse and modernized transportation system in Ohio.  To support GOPC’s most recent policy recommendations, GOPC has published a series of research memos that:

  • Analyze Pennsylvania’s 2013 comprehensive budget reform and identifies strategies that Ohio could replicate.  Undertaking a similar reform in Ohio could produce more resources and recalibrated funding to better fund all transportation modes, especially public transportation.
  • Outline the benefits of “flexing” $30 million of Ohio’s federal dollars to public transportation.  Ohio is the 7th most populous state in the country yet ranks 38th in state support of public transportation.  The allocation of existing federal funds to transit could support 370 new rural transit vans or 107 new full size buses per year.  Ohio currently has 275 rural vehicles and 900 urban buses beyond their useful life and 22 rural counties without any transit service.
  • Discuss the benefits of raising the state motor fuel tax, indexing it to inflation and removing, through statewide ballot, the constitutional provisions that restricts the gas tax’s use to highways.  By the Ohio constitution, the state’s gas tax can only be used for highway construction and repairs.  While increasing the gas tax is not a complete  solution, it is a longstanding resource that will remain so for Ohio.

To attract and retain businesses and residents, states across the country are investing in diverse, modern transportation systems that support all modes.  Ohio has a geographic advantage of being within 600 miles of over half of the U.S. and Canadian populations.  To leveraging this prime position, Ohio must invest in transit, bike/ped, rail, deep water ports, airports and highways. GOPC’s memos outline strategies to support and enhance all the modes that make up Ohio’s transportation system.

Click here to for more information and to access the memos.

Connecting Neighborhood Revitalization to “Green” Water Infrastructure

March 10th, 2016

By Colleen Durfee, GOPC Research Intern

Stormwater runoff and Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are primary concerns of Ohio’s industrial legacy cities. In the midwest, we have long depended upon natural water sources for city and metro water needs but severe weather patterns, decades of unsustainable development, aging infrastructure, and fluctuating populations damage natural hydrological systems by allowing human produced bypass and overflow to enter them without being treated. Because of this, many municipalities are faced with needing to upgrade sewer and stormwater infrastructure. Whether mandated by the EPA or adopted independently, stormwater and sewer infrastructure upgrades are extremely expensive. However, municipalities are finding incorporating green infrastructure allows them to cut costs while meeting desired stormwater and CSO capture. Green stormwater and CSO infrastructure often require making more porous surfaces, meaning the land can act as a sponge and absorb the first inch or so of water during a storm rather than flowing on impervious surfaces until reaching a sewer system that overflows into rivers, streams, and lakes. In legacy cities where population and income decline leave abandoned and vacant land in their wake, we find an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Click Here to Read Part I of GOPC’s Infrastructure and Brownfields Needs Assessment!

Repurposing vacant land for green infrastructure can also revitalize neighborhoods, attract populations, stimulate economic activity, and increase incomes and property values. In cities with brownfields and abandoned property, green infrastructure is a welcome alternative to letting the space remain unusable. Buffalo, NY is addressing the problem of population shrinkage by using abandoned and vacant land to “right-size”, incorporating green infrastructure into its urban core. In Ohio, Youngstown adopted a shrinking city policy as part of their comprehensive land-use plan, allowing them to incorporate porous surfaces and act as a location for wetland creation, fulfilling a need for companies to create wetlands under the wetland banking regulations. Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, are using abandoned lots for green infrastructure like rain gardens and storm basins as part of their overflow control plan.

Repurposing condemned and abandoned properties beautifies neighborhoods, decreases crime, enhances health, reduces urban heat index, and has long-term economic benefits. For municipalities riddled with abandoned properties –remnants of mid-twentieth century hay-day – opportunities to “right-size” while positively affecting stormwater runoff issues should be seized upon. Green infrastructure is not only cost effective but also efficient and adds benefits to the human experience, environment, and health far beyond fiscal viability. In the long term, green infrastructure upgrades will not only provide stormwater runoff and CSO benefits but create resilient and long-lasting communities that house more permanent residents, leading to economic, human, and environmental health.

GOPC Legislative Update February 2016

February 26th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The following grid is designed to provide you with insight into the likelihood of passage of the legislation we are monitoring. Please note that due to the fluid nature of the legislative process, the color coding of bills is subject to change at any time. GOPC will be regularly updating the legislative update the last Thursday of every month and when major developments arise. If you have any concerns about a particular bill, please let us know.

Bills Available Online at www.legislature.ohio.gov

Bills Available Online at www.legislature.ohio.gov

Updates on Key Bills:greater-ohio-flag

greater-ohio-flag  HB 182 UPDATE: HB 182 continues to move smoothly through the legislative process. On February 10th, the bill, which proposes to allow local governments to establish Joint Economic Development Districts (JEDDS) for development purposes, unanimously passed out of the House. Since then the bill has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it will receive final review. GOPC expects members within the Senate will aptly receive the bill.

greater-ohio-flag  HB 233 UPDATE: Since our last report, HB 233 received its customary third hearing within the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill, which proposes to authorize municipal corporations to create downtown redevelopment districts (DRDs) and innovation districts for the purposes of promoting the rehabilitation of historic buildings and encourage economic development, had several witnesses attend committee to offer support earlier this month. Proponents of HB 233 included Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney, the Ohio Municipal League, Heritage Ohio, the Springfield Port Authority, and Greater Ohio Policy Center. GOPC suspects HB 233 will receive a fourth and final hearing before being sent to the Senate Floor for third consideration.

greater-ohio-flag  SJR3 UPDATE: Senate Joint Resolution 3, which is one of numerous efforts geared towards addressing Ohio’s “clean water” issue, received its very first hearing on February 10th in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) offered testimony asking the committee to consider his plan to expand sewer and water improvements for municipalities, counties, townships, and other government entities. During the hearing Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), who is also Chair of the Lake Erie Caucus, told Senator Schiavoni that he agrees that the state needs to tackle this issue and that SJR3 could be part of the strategy.

New Bills & Explanation of Bill Impact on Economic Development within Ohio:

HB 463 is sponsored by State Representative Johnathan Dever (R-Madeira). This bill proposes to establish expedited actions to foreclose mortgages on vacant residential properties. You may recall our coverage on another bill (HB 134), which offers similar reformative measures to the foreclosure process. HB 463 does indeed amend sections of the Ohio Revised Code akin to HB 134, but there are variances. HB 463 is distinctive in three ways: 1) proposes to allow judgement creditors the right to elect a public selling officer (county sheriff) or a private selling officer to sell the property; 2) orders the state to create and maintain a statewide sheriff’s website where auctions can be managed and conducted; 3) allows a person not in possession of an instrument the right to enforce the instrument if there is proof of entitlement.

Representative Dever’s approach to remedy the issues that exist within the current mortgage foreclosure process pushes the foreclosure process to become more modernized via the creation of an online website. GOPC is continuing to review the potential consequences of the bill, , but we are fully supportive of the principle and overall objective of expediting mortgage foreclosure on vacant and abandoned properties.

 

For more details and information on legislation that GOPC is tracking, please visit our Previous Legislative Updates.

Economists Believe 2016 Shows Promise for Ohio

January 8th, 2016

By Alex Highley, Project Associate

Panelists at the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Blue Chip Economic Forecast offered bright expectations for Ohio in 2016. Gazing into their crystal balls, economists Bill Lafayette, Founder of Regionomics, and Ben Ayers, Senior Economist at Nationwide expressed their beliefs that net job growth will remain on the uptick and that Ohio will reflect the national incline. Still, in this statistically-dense session, the pair identified some job sectors that likely will continue to struggle and acknowledged that many people around the state would have trouble obtaining jobs.

2015’s job growth proved even better than Lafayette had expected this time last year. 22,000 net new jobs were created in central Ohio and this is a trend Lafayette believes will stay on course. He expects the education and health care sector to continue to thrive. Currently, one in four new jobs is created in this arena. Ayers and Lafayette also believe housing, technical services, and corporate management will do particularly well this year.

CMC economic forecast 2016

While central Ohio will probably see continued population and job growth this year, the fruits of this development can be enjoyed throughout the metro area. Areas such as Lancaster, Chillicothe, and Groveport can benefit from successes of Columbus’ growth. According to Lafayette, the rest of the Midwest lags behind central Ohio because it relies so heavily on the manufacturing industry. While much of the Ohio economy is built around manufacturing, there is still potential for job formation in other sectors. As discussed in GOPC’s report Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities, assets in the heart of downtown, such as universities, medical centers, and government offices, represent the economic engine of any city. These fundamental resources employ thousands, spur economic activity, and build on their successes in surrounding neighborhoods.

Both panelists acknowledged that people from the Midwest tend to be more risk-averse and that this fear of failure when thinking of starting a business is perhaps holding Ohio back. If this attitude can be overcome, Lafayette thinks more people will pursue self-employed businesses in Columbus and throughout the state and that Ohio would be closer to fulfilling its business potential. GOPC works to ensure that business-friendly environments are prevalent throughout the state and that business owners in all neighborhoods and communities thrive and have the community-based tools to be successful job creators.

Growing Legacy City Populations: GOPC Moderates at the Welcoming Economies Annual Convening

July 13th, 2015

In the mid-twentieth century, Ohio’s population growth was strong, adding almost a million new residents every decade. Since the 1970s, however, Ohio’s population growth has stagnated and as of 2013, Ohio is 47th in the nation in terms of population growth.

The state of Ohio estimates that in the next twenty five years, the state will experience a net gain of 85,000 residents. During that same time period (2015-2040) the nation as a whole is projected to gain another 60 million residents.

Ohio’s population has shifted around the state, leaving behind half-populated neighborhoods in our older communities and thousands of abandoned homes. To repopulate our cities and to make them as vibrant, economically strong, and attractive as before, Ohio cannot depend on “growing its own.”

Greater Ohio Policy Center joined dozens of other organizations at the Welcoming Economies Global Network Annual Convening last week in Dayton, Ohio, to discuss strategies for attracting and retaining new populations, specifically immigrant and refugee groups. Legacy cities across the country—including Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Dayton—are actively working to create welcoming environments for new residents. These residents are renovating abandoned houses, starting businesses, farming urban plots, shopping in local stores, and contributing to the regeneration of legacy city neighborhoods.

GOPC moderated the panel, “Neighborhood Revitalization: The Immigrant/Refugee Opportunity” and opened a discussion by briefly discussing Ohio’s current demographics. That information can be found here.

Panelists then spoke about programs in Detroit that are working to help place people in land bank-owned homes in three diverse working class neighborhoods, how the city of Dayton is supporting Ahiska Turks who are revitalizing the Old North Dayton neighborhood, and plans the city of Cleveland has in development to build a refugee-focused neighborhood around a school that serves students who are learning English.

In each city, immigrants are pumping millions of dollars into the economy, creating energy and nodes of economic activity that will be critical for the “come back” of these cities.

More information about the Welcoming Economies Global Network can be found here.

 

GOPC Discusses Ohio’s Demographic Trends with Township Administrators

July 10th, 2015

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Last month, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Associate Director Alison D. Goebel presented “Ohio’s Changing Demographic and Their Impact on Townships” to the Ohio Township Administrators Network, hosted by the Ohio Townships Association.

Discussing current characteristics of Ohio’s population and where different demographic trends are headed, the presentation provided useful strategies and state-policy recommendations on how to strengthen existing communities and prepare for future needs and demands.

Administrators from around the state attended and represented a range of townships, including urban, suburban, and ex-urban townships.

The presentation can be found here.