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Pumping the Brakes on Columbus, Ohio’s Transportation Transformation

After being announced as the winner of the DOT's first "Smart Cities" challenge, Columbus is excited to begin work on its next-gen transit system, but results will more likely come in years, not months.

by Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / August 4, 2016

(TNS) -- The excitement that went with Columbus winning the nation’s “Smart Cities” challenge and the $50 million in grants that went with it is now hitting this reality: A lot of hard work comes next.

Essentially, it will take years instead of months to complete the intelligent-transportation initiatives that are at the heart of the Smart Cities program, civic leaders told a Metropolitan Club audience Wednesday.

“The whole focus is to deploy the technology by 2018, 2019,” said Aparna Dial, deputy director of the Columbus Department of Public Service. “We’re trying to take a really thoughtful approach. What are the challenges we face day to day as ordinary citizens?”

Those involved in the program initially will be tapping the advice of many experts, said Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership. Funding for the program is being provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Vulcan Inc.

“We sort of don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.

One of the first elements that will be seen by the public is COTA’s new rapid-transit bus line on the Cleveland Avenue corridor, said Curtis Stitt, president and CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority.

Work will begin soon, he said, with the goal of finishing on Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re getting calls from people who never thought about COTA before, or about Columbus before,” Stitt said. “I’m asking the bus manufacturers about new technology and they haven’t really thought about it before.”

One high-profile part of the plan is the driverless car initiative, which is to be funded by the $10 million grant from Vulcan Inc.. But “that doesn’t mean we’re going to have a bunch of autonomous vehicles running around Columbus,” Fischer said.

“Driverless cars don’t work well in snow,” he said. “So you will see tests at Easton, at the Ohio State campus.”

One reason cited for Columbus’ success in landing the grant was its “culture of collaboration."

It was that public-private partnership that led public sources and private entities to pledge $90 million in matching funds to add to the Smart Cities grant, Dial said.

“Who else can turn $50 million into $140 million,” but Columbus, she said.

“We really believe we’re all in this together,” Dial said. “We will figure this out. In just Public Services alone, we have seven employees dedicated to this for the next four years.”‘

Part of the private aspect of the partnership includes taking suggestions from ordinary citizens, she said. Those who do want to contribute ideas may email the planners at

©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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