Lima, Ohio, Asks if Tech Can Help Traffic Snarled by Trains

Lima city leaders met with Ohio Department of Transportation to ask one very specific question: How can DriveOhio, the state's tech initiative for traffic, help with congestion caused by trains?

by Josh Ellerbrock, The Lima News / January 17, 2019

(TNS) — To solve its train congestion problem, Lima, Ohio, is looking to utilize technology-driven solutions brought forward by a statewide initiative.

Earlier this month, city officials and Lima-Allen County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Thom Mazur met with Ohio Department of Transportation representatives in order to discuss how DriveOhio could benefit the city. The statewide initiative was originally set into place by former Gov. John Kasich in early 2018 to set up Ohio as a center of innovation for autonomous and connected vehicles.

While initially set up to push forward driverless vehicle technologies, city officials instead set one of Lima’s unique problems on the table — how can the city ease traffic problems caused by stopped trains?

As anyone who is trying to cross Cable Road at noon knows, trains can be a real concern for the city. Outside of upsetting lunch plans, stopped trains affect the response times of emergency vehicles as well as create an economic drag during some of the busiest times of the workday.

The conventional solution has been constructing overpasses or underpasses over or under railroad tracks, but that process takes major investment in both time and resources. For example, the Elm Street underpass project that began construction this past year ended up costing $20 million in grant funding that was allocated to the project after 20 years of work.

DriveOhio, however, may be able to reduce congestion caused by stopped trains by better routing vehicles with navigational systems or way-finding apps, such as Waze, by embedding train data, Mayor David Berger said.

Basically, by knowing when and where trains may be stopped, drivers can be informed ahead of time before they find themselves stuck between a line of cars watching a train inch to a stop.

“We’re looking at technologies that can be put in place to give people alternatives when a train track is blocked,” Berger said.

To work with ODOT, Berger has drafted legislation to be considered by Lima City Council during its Jan. 28 meeting that would set in place a memorandum of understanding with the state agency. There would be no cost to the city, Berger said.

Roughly 10 cities have already stated their intent to work with DriveOhio to tackle their own unique infrastructure needs. Lima is first of the 10 to work on the difficulties presented by trains.

Other opportunities identified by the city that could be addressed by working with DriveOhio also include right-of-way issues and better traffic signal coordination.

©2019 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.