Cincinnati, Ohio/Interstate 71 Corridor

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Interstate 71 Corridor

Cincinnati, Ohio

(November 1999)

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The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments is proposing to design and construct a 43-mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) line in a corridor extending north from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Florence, Kentucky to the City of Mason, Ohio. The proposed alignment will use an existing right-of-way along a portion of Interstate 71 as well as a former Conrail Railroad right-of-way and active right-of-way of the Indiana and Ohio (I&O) Railroad, owned by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). OKI has initiated preliminary engineering and the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the first Minimum Operable Segment (MOS-1) extending approximately 19 miles. MOS-1 begins at 12th Street in Covington, Kentucky, runs north through downtown Cincinnati, and terminates at Grooms Road in Blue Ash, Ohio. MOS-1 includes a proposed 24 stations. Capital cost estimates for MOS-1 total $874.7 million (escalated dollars). OKI estimates that 23,800 average weekday boardings, including 17,600 daily new riders, will use MOS-1 in the year 2020.

The total capital cost estimate for the entire 43-mile LRT, including 30 proposed stations, is estimated at $1,157 million (in 1996 dollars).

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light Rail Transit Line (MOS-1), 19 miles, 24 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

$874.7 million

Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE):

$431.2 million

Annual Operating Cost($1999):

$18.0 million

Ridership Forecast (2020):

23,800 avg. weekday boardings

17,600 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:


FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:


FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:

Not Recommended

The overall project rating of Not Recommended is based on the project’s poor cost effectiveness, absence of transit supportive land use policies in the corridor, and the lack of local financial commitment to build and operate the proposed system at this time. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates, costs, benefits and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.



In March 1998, OKI completed the I-71 Major Investment Study (MIS) with the selection of the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) recommending the design and construction of a 43-mile LRT line. The entire 43-mile LRT (including MOS-1) is included in OKI’s Long-Range Transportation Plan and conforming Transportation Improvement Program. Using $5.8 million in Section 5307 flexible funds, SORTA purchased several portions of active and abandoned railroad right-of-way for the proposed light rail project.

In December 1998, FTA approved the initiation of preliminary engineering and the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for MOS-1. The DEIS is scheduled for completion in March 2000.

Section 3030(b)(66) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Northeast Corridor" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $9.75 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the proposed project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. OKI has reported the New Starts criteria for MOS-1. N/A indicates that information for a specific measure was not available.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in the preliminary engineering phase of project development. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Low-Medium project justification rating reflects the project’s relatively low ratings for cost effectiveness and transit supportive land use.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

OKI estimates 23,800 average weekday boardings, including 17,600 new riders, on MOS-1 of the Interstate 71 light rail project in 2020. OKI estimates the following annual travel time savings for the project:


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

1.6 million

0.8 million

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 13,877 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed MOS-1 station sites.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

The Cincinnati metropolitan area is currently classified as a moderate non-attainment area for ozone and is in attainment for carbon monoxide (CO). OKI estimates that the proposed project will result in increases in nitrogen oxide (Nox) and carbon monoxide emissions compared to the No-Build alternative. Overall, OKI estimates that in 2020, the proposed project would result in the following emissions reductions.


Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions. Values in [ ] represent an increase in emissions.

OKI anticipates that the proposed project would result in an increase in British Thermal Units (BTUs) compared to the No-Build alternative and a decrease in BTUs when compared to the TSM alternative.


Annual Energy Savings

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions. Values in [ ] represent an increase in BTUs.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

OKI estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile in the year 2020 for the New Start, the No-Build, and the TSM alternatives.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020)




Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

OKI estimates the following cost effectiveness indices, comparing the proposed project to the No-Build and TSM alternatives:




New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium land use rating reflects only marginal existing transit-supportive corridor policies, but acknowledges the positive existing land use elements of the proposed corridor, including several high trip generators.

Existing Conditions: Total population within a ½ mile radius of stations located near the

19-mile MOS of the proposed light rail project is estimated at 73,700. The MOS serves the Cincinnati central business district (CBD) where total employment is estimated at 79,700 (8.5 percent of the metropolitan region). CBD employment density is estimated at 217 jobs per acre. The proposed station areas encompass a variety of high trip generators, including two universities (University of Cincinnati – 30,000 students; Xavier University – 6,000 students), a new stadium and baseball park, several major hospitals, suburban malls and office parks. There are an estimated 37,800 housing units located near the proposed station areas of the initial MOS. Currently, there are few pedestrian amenities along the proposed alignment, although there are some areas with substantial pedestrian use, including the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati CBD/stadium areas and the univeristy/medical areas. Currently, there are no regional parking policies or requirements in place.

Future Plans and Policies: The metropolitan region is projected to grow; however, population densities are projected to decrease for many areas in the proposed corridor. Housing and population are forecast to increase for only the five northernmost station areas. Currently, employment in the corridor represents 28 percent of regional employment. Between 1995 and 2020, this percentage is expected to decrease to 25 percent as regional employment grows faster than employment in the proposed corridor. In July 1998, a commission was formed in the eight-county tri-state region to address the connection between land use and transportation. The current 2020 Metropolitan Transportation Plan recommends that local governments manage growth and encourage alternatives to single occupant vehicles. The Boone County (Kentucky) 2020 Comprehensive Plan encourages redevelopment of infill sites. The City of Cincinnati has begun to examine potential changes to the area’s current zoning code. There are plans for development along several portions of the corridor, including the Ohio riverfront and in the Covington and Cincinnati CBDs. In addition, a plan is being developed for the proposed station area around Xavier University.


Other Factors

Empowerment Zone: A portion of the proposed Interstate 71 corridor is pending designation as a Federal Urban Empowerment Zone (UEZ). Housing, development and transportation policies are described in the nomination plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The designated UEZ area would encompass six proposed light rail station areas.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 51%

The financial strategy for the 19-mile MOS of the proposed Interstate 71 Corridor light rail project includes $431.2 million (49 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, $227.9 million (26 percent of total project costs) in local funds and $215.6 million (25 percent) in State funding.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium rating reflects the lack of commitment of non-Federal funds and the absence of a local entity to build and operate the proposed light rail project. However, the rating also acknowledges the recent efforts by OKI, SORTA and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) to enter into an interlocal agreement to oversee the preliminary engineering/environmental review phase of project development.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: At this time, a local entity to build and operate the proposed light rail project has not been identified. However, OKI, SORTA and TANK have agreed to jointly manage the initial phases of project development, including preliminary engineering and the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The financial condition of the two transit operators (SORTA and TANK) are considered sound.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The capital cost estimates for the proposed project are considered reasonable given the project’s size, scope, and phase of development. Contingency factors applied to the project are adequate.

Existing and Committed Funding: At this time, no non-Federal funding is yet committed to the MOS-1. The region (Ohio and Kentucky) in which the proposed light rail project would operate does not have a dedicated source of funding for transit. In each state, funds must be authorized and appropriated as part of the normal annual budgetary cycle. OKI has established the Metropolitan Mobility Alliance to study and determine a mechanism for financing the local share of capital costs associated with the region’s transit system expansions, including the light rail project.

New and Proposed Sources: Project sponsors are currently examining potential new funding sources for the proposed project, including a sales tax, motor fuel tax, or a property tax. A local referendum on these options is currently planned for May 2001.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Low

The Low rating reflects the absence of a dedicated funding source for the operation and maintenance requirements of the project. The rating also reflects the absence of a local entity to operate the proposed light rail project.

Agency Operating Condition: At this time, a local entity to operate the proposed light rail project has not been identified. Both SORTA and TANK are considered to be in adequate operating condition.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating and maintenance costs are currently estimated at $18 million (current year dollars). These estimates are considered reasonable. However, provisions to cover unanticipated cost overruns or lower than anticipated passenger revenues are dependent on the as-yet-undetermined dedicated operating source of funding.

Existing and Committed Funding: No existing funding sources are currently available to operate the proposed LRT.

New and Proposed Sources: A dedicated source of funding for the light rail project has not been determined. A local referendum is scheduled for mid-2001 to determine a dedicated operating source of funding for the proposed project.


Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($9.75 million appropriated through FY 2000).







NOTE: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.


Interstate 71 Corridor (map)