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Metro's Public Transit Infrastructure Program Moving Along

Holly Yurchison

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board is moving ahead with its Reinventing Metro plan. A new fare system begins April 4, and soon communities will be able to start applying for funds for local infrastructure projects.

Reinventing Metro is funded by a 25-year, voter-approved sales tax increase. Seventy-five percent will be used to fund SORTA operations and improve Metro bus service through things such as adding routes and extending services. The remaining 25% is slated for public infrastructure, like helping local communities with road and bridge projects.

Metro CEO Darryl Haley says the Transit Infrastructure Plan Program lays out how Metro and communities will work together. It includes hiring an outside engineering firm to put out the call for, and score, projects.

"We'd like to get the call for projects out as soon as we possibly can, and by using an engineering firm, it will save us time in setting up the staff within SORTA," he told SORTA board members.

"We'll do a request for projects by April 1. The proposals will be due on June 30," he adds.

They'll be scored during July and August with a board committee reviewing the scoring in September and going to the Ohio Public Works District TwoIntegrating Committee for approval in October.The committee is comprised of representatives from Cincinnati, Hamilton County, the Hamilton County Municipal League, and the Hamilton County Township Association.

"Then we'll enter agreements the fourth quarter of this year so we can have another one of the promises that we made for Reinventing Metro fulfilled," says Haley.

The sales tax is projected to generate $120 million in its first year with $30 million of that going toward the local infrastructure program. While $120 million is down from the $130 million projected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, SORTA Board Chair Kreg Keesee notes it's not as big of drop as people may have been expecting.

There were questions about making sure funds are distributed equitably and making help available to communities that might need assistance with the application process. Haley says the consultants will score projects based on criteria that aims to ensure the most important, highest scoring projects get funding.

Board Member Gwen Robinson specifically wondered about help for smaller jurisdictions. While Haley says the committee won't help communities write their grant applications, it will offer technical assistance.

"That needs to be communicated (to smaller jurisdictions)," she said. "That was a concern - that the larger more sophisticated communities (could dominate and)... the smaller ones will be left out. That's where the parity issue comes into play."

Keesee says the process can be updated each year to correct any problems that come up.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.