Cleveland-Akron-Canton commuter rail is dropped without public notice and despite rails popularity

The following statement is from the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (4/2/02). This is another indication that hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to promote more driving in the Akron-Cleveland-Canton corridor, while little is spent on transportation alternatives.

In a move that may verify why the public distrusts government, the policy committee of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS) on March 27 voted in secret to drop a proposed Cleveland-Akron-Canton (CAC) commuter rail project from further consideration. The AMATS committee is comprised of elected officials from Portage and Summit counties. Its vote could be accepted or rejected by the full AMATS Board in May.

The committees vote compromised the publics trust for a number of reasons. The vote was made:

  • Absent any public notice that a vote was going to be held, as this was supposed to be an information-only meeting on the progress of the CAC study;
  • At the behest of committee chair Warner Mendenhall, mayor of Silver Lake, a small village which is the only pocket of commuter rail opposition along the entire route;
  • Without allowing comments by commuter rail-supportive committee members (including Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls officials) before the vote was cast;
  • Without 13 of 42 committee members in attendance; many of those present were Portage County officials who were angry that a CAC route option via Kent was eliminated from further consideration due to low ridership and high costs;
    Before committee members saw a full CAC technical study report by AMATS staff (because the report wont be finished until later this month);
  • Without consideration of extreme opposition to the widening of I-77 in Slavic Village in Cleveland and strong, region-wide public support for commuter rail voiced at multiple public hearings this past winter;
  • In conflict with the AMATS 2025 transportation plan, which includes commuter rail via Hudson and eliminates the Kent line from consideration. This plan must be adopted by AMATS in May or the region will risk more than $1 billion in federal transportation funds.

"This was an ambush, plain and simple," said OARP Vice President Ken Prendergast. "For the most part, government officials are honest people. But this kind of behavior causes citizens to forget the good things they do. Its ridiculous that three metro areas having more than 3 million people must be held hostage by a misinformed village and some sour grapes that arent even part of the CAC Corridor."

In January 2002, over 200 people attended a series of public meetings and an additional 50 written comments were received, a strong majority of which supported the development of commuter rail. Supporting commuter rail were: the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Canton Chamber of Commerce, the cities of Akron, Tallmadge, Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Ohio Rail Development Commission, Amtrak, Summit County Port Authority, the Summit County Board of MRDD and the Portage Trails Group of the Sierra Club.

Also, extreme opposition was voiced against the widening of I-77 in the Slavic Village area of Cleveland. Since that time, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have spoken out against the widening. ODOT District 12 has publicly stated it will not widen I-77 in that area and considers that section of I-77 totally built out.

Prendergast added that Mayor Mendenhall has spread falsehoods about the rail project. He and the people of his village are fearful that commuter trains will open the door to freight traffic on the track which parallels noisy State Route 8. Freight trains no longer use this track, from Cuyahoga Falls to Hudson via Silver Lake. It was bought by the public sector to preserve it for future commuter rail use.

After three years of study, a recommendation is coming into focus that proposes spending $821 million on our regions transportation infrastructure over the next 25 years. The proposal includes spending $171 million on the development of commuter rail, and $629 million on widening and improving the CAC Corridors highways.

"If we dont build commuter rail, then well have to spend even more taxpayers dollars to acquire land, demolish homes and add more expensive lanes to some highways just to handle the rush-hour traffic," Prendergast added. "This region cant afford to do that, not when theres an alternative out there that can save the taxpayers money, save our communities, protect the environment and improve mobility choices."

"OARP strongly recommends that the AMATS Policy Committee reconsider this action at its May 22 meeting," he concluded.

OARP is a nonprofit, educational organization founded in 1973 to advocate for service and safety improvements to intercity passenger rail and urban transit services. For more information, call 216-986-6064.


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