Central Ohio is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the nation and has primarily developed in a low-density suburban form. Significant investment has been placed in the area’s road networks, resulting in relatively low congestion and commute times for Dublin and the region. Dublin’s success as an economic leader in Central Ohio has been, in part, due to its commitment toward planning and proactively constructing major roadway projects to ensure access and mobility.
Dublin’s role as a regional employment center has resulted in reliance on the automobile and only modest transit options focused on larger employers or key regional destinations such as the Columbus Zoo. Population and employment will continue to rise unlike most urban areas within the Midwest despite current transit limitations. Efforts to develop the West Innovation District must include the planning and capability for transit options as opportunities arise.
Transit in Central Ohio
The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) has focused service within the Dublin area. Existing routes center around the Tuttle-Emerald Parkway area, as well as locations on the interior of I-270. Long range plans for COTA have identified additional routes to Dublin Methodist Hospital just north of the West Innovation District, and the Authority has been actively pursuing additional park-and-ride locations. Areas under consideration include the Sawmill Road Corridor, the hospital area and a location in the West Innovation District near the U.S. 33 / SR 161 interchange.
COTA’s routes are provided in a radial pattern with Dublin located at the terminus of routes extending from the Ohio State campus and inner city. Major Dublin employers have stressed the need for additional transit access, particularly in a cross-town patterns to suburbs that would increase access to potential service employees. Enhanced travel between suburban centers and the downtown employment core is also an important future consideration. To address these concerns, COTA’s plans include the capability to better link Dublin with the Worthington and Hilliard areas. COTA has focused its efforts to provide additional routes in other areas of the region, given recent national economic trends. As a result, additional planned routes in Dublin will be delayed.
Planning for future routes has not yet extended to the West Innovation District and must be considered. The West Innovation District Plan proactively looks at long term growth that extends beyond the hospital area. The Plan serves as a guide for future mode choices and the general placement of routes.
Regional Light Rail
Consideration of light rail options in Central Ohio area has not progressed in recent years despite significant investment in studies. COTA’s evaluation of the North Corridor Transit Project was the last attempt to look at regional rail solutions for commuters. The “hub and spoke” approach centered on downtown Columbus and emphasized areas of highest density along a north-south line parallel to High Street and the I-71 Corridor. Dublin was considered as a secondary route for that system, but the proposal was not successful. Little consideration has been given for other approaches that could garner greater support from key suburbs like Dublin. Feasible sources of land for future routes will likely be limited to railroad rights-of-way or some consideration of existing rights-of-way along interstates or other major thoroughfares as regional growth continues and property values increase.
Significant increases in local and regional congestion will be necessary before regional or suburban light rail becomes politically or economically possible. While it is reasonable to expect that rail solutions are not likely at any time in the foreseeable future, the West Innovation District Transit Plan considers the need for this type of transit investment and accommodates additional mode choices to increase transportation options.
Ohio’s Rail Future
Significant discussion about passenger rail has occurred at the state level over the past few years. In particular, the Ohio Hub concept has been developed with the purpose of creating a series of passenger rail connections to link Columbus with other Ohio metropolitan areas. An Ohio passenger system could be connected to other states in the Midwest, providing a more regional and national approach. The CSX railroad through Dublin was considered as a secondary line in the Ohio hub concept that would link Columbus northwest to areas such as Fort-Wayne/Chicago and Toledo/Detroit.
Primary focus of the Ohio Hub Concept is the 3-C line linking Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, the state’s largest metro areas. The concept includes a limited number of intermediate stops on each major rail link. The push for passenger rail in Ohio, however, has been delayed due to concerns about the project cost, travel speed and state budget issues. Plans for the West Innovation District maintain an option to provide a future station location and the ability to consider the area for related development should opportunity arise. Proximity to downtown Columbus may make a planned stop more difficult, but the significance of tech-related employment and the importance of the West Innovation District could warrant a station location on rail frontage near Darree Fields.
Ohio is also quickly becoming a major national logistics hub. Recent completion of Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor project has created a more direct route from east coast ports to Columbus. The new improvements can accommodate double-stack container shipments and has significantly reduced transit time to the new Rickenbacker Intermodal Yard. As a result, Central Ohio is becoming a key shipment point for Chicago and the entire Midwest. CSX also has key rail yards near Roberts Road and Marysville. The creation of a new intermodal yard near Findlay places Dublin within easy reach of a variety of rail shipment options. U.S. 33 is a major industrial freight corridor, and the West Innovation District is strategically located. The West Innovation District’s rail link between Columbus and Marysville provides the opportunity to integrate rail spurs to support freight movement and access to supply chains for clean manufacturing activity. Freight traffic on the CSX line is expected to increase significantly and will impact the ability to consider other regional or statewide passenger options. The West Innovation District Plan provides flexibility for both passenger and freight rail applications.
The Transit Plan
The West Innovation District Transit Plan looks holistically to the larger Dublin context. The SR 161 spine stretching through the center of Dublin encompasses the majority of future development and commercial intensification in Dublin. Specifically, the Plan looks at the role that COTA plays today in the Dublin area and considers a long-term progression of transit options that will adjust to development patterns and growth.
Extended Bus Lines
Short term solutions for transit, because of the predominance of the automobile, include working with COTA to expand service within Dublin and the West Innovation District. COTA’s long-range plans identify the hospital area as a destination point and focus for future routes linking adjacent suburbs. Development of the West Innovation District will include the westward extension of routes as the employment center grows. COTA’s system focuses on linear routes, so key end points or loops within the West Innovation District should be established and modified as major employers or other amenities are identified. The additional routes should be focused on providing greater access and choice for commuters.
Creation of a Dublin Circulator/Spine
Greater effort should be made to focus on Dublin’s internal needs as development in the West Innovation District and SR 161 corridor intensifies. The establishment of a circulator route or primary transit spine through COTA or a City-sponsored service, should be established that will link key businesses, amenities and destinations. Various options could include both spine and circulator routes. The preferred planning option includes a primary transit spine that parallels SR 161 along Perimeter Drive where retail and employment nodes can be accessed. The spine would be considered in combination with a circulator route linking key employment nodes along Emerald Parkway and Frantz Road with destinations in the Bridge Street District, including Historic Dublin and the Sawmill Corridor.
Any circulator route should be focused on providing wait times of less than ten minutes to satisfactorily serve residents and employees. Other COTA routes should also be reconfigured to link into any established circulator system. Specialized buses such as hybrid or eco-friendly buses, luxury buses, retrofitted double decker buses or rubber tire street cars that would be distinctive from regular transit routes should be emphasized to increase ridership levels.
A point will be reached at which typical bus route delays in traffic will justify consideration of new alternatives as development intensity increases. Establishment of Rapid Bus is an option that will allow for the expedited movement of buses through normal traffic. Rapid Busmay include signal prioritization and/or signal preemption, as well as other intelligent treatments such as interactive stop times that will provide real-time travel information. Rapid buses use the normal road right-of-way, but can include additional lanes that allow faster movement through congestion points and intersections.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
The next stage in transit provision is Bus Rapid Transit. Given the establishment of Emerald Parkway design standards for major roads, congestion may someday reach a point by which a lane of traffic could be converted to bus use. Internal lanes on the transit spine reaching from the West Innovation District to the Bridge Street District could be bus-only or HOV lanes that accommodate the rapid movement of buses. Transit stops could be placed within the landscaped median areas if properly planned. Selection of the BRT option is preferred because of the relatively lower cost provided by converting existing infrastructure. In time, buses are expected to continue improving in efficiency, and the use of buses can be more cost-effective than rail options. Lanes could be available to general traffic in off-peak hours, and the system could easily be extended in stages and converted to rail if ridership justifies the expenditure.
A future BRT line connecting the Bridge Street District and the West Innovation District and paralleling SR 161 could be considered for conversion to light rail as the core of Dublin continues to grow. Rail lines can be added into the existing right-of-way if development patterns support the conversion. Any of the available transit options should be extended to link with passenger or commuter rail, should the opportunity arise. Most likely would be a transit location within the West Innovation District in the proximity of Darree Fields. A secondary consideration would be the integration of light rail into the I-270 and/or U.S. 33 corridors and the potential to establish key links to routes as necessary to enhance mobility and spur development at important nodes.