Cincinnati, Ohio/Interstate 71 Corridor LRT

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Interstate 71 Corridor LRT

Cincinnati, Ohio

(November 2000)


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 that extends 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):

$15.9 million

Ridership Forecast (2020):

23,800 avg. weekday boardings
600 daily new riders

FY 2002 Financial Rating:


FY 2002 Project Justification Rating:


FY 2002 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 2000. 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 November 2001.

Section 3030(b)(66) of TEA-21 authorizes the “Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Northeast Corridor” for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, 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 preliminary engineering. 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 mobility improvements.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-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.

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

1.6 million

0.8 million

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 18,882 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.

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.

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: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the positive existing land use elements of the proposed corridor, including the Cincinnati central business district (CBD) and redeveloping riverfront area, several high trip generators and moderately dense urban neighborhoods. Transit-supportive corridor policies include redevelopment plans that have been generated for several corridor communities and institutions. While station area planning efforts are still in the early stages, recent progress, including the development of design guidelines, provides a useful foundation to guide future transit-oriented development initiatives at individual stations.

Existing Conditions: While the project corridor accounts for nearly 30 percent of metropolitan area employment, within a ½ mile radius of all stations, total employment is only 3,800 jobs, the majority of which are located in downtown Cincinnati, total population is only 2,700. Reported corridor densities are also fairly low, at 8.2 residents and 10.3 employees per acre. Total CBD employment is estimated at 79,700 (8.5 percent of the metropolitan region). CBD employment density is estimated at 217 jobs/acre. The proposed station areas encompass a variety of high trip generators, despite the relatively low employment and population densities including two universities (University of Cincinnati – 30,000 students; Xavier University – 6,000 students) a new sports stadium, several major hospitals, suburban malls and office parks. There are an estimated 1,140 housing units located within the ½ mile radius of station areas of the initial MOS. Development patterns in the Cincinnati CBD and a number of other station areas are moderately pedestrian-friendly and urban-scaled. Development at station areas farther from the Cincinnati downtown area are more suburban and auto-oriented, but still feature some concentrations of development. 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. Employment has been growing in downtown Cincinnati and is expected to increase by 15 percent over the period from 1995-2020, while corridor employment is projected to increase by 11 percent. Zoning regulations supporting high-density development appropriate to an urban center are in effect in Cincinnati’s Downtown Development District and the City is considering the establishment of transit overlay districts in the LRT’s station areas. 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. There are plans for development along several portions of the corridor, including the Ohio riverfront and the Covington and Cincinnati CBDs, and the Uptown Cincinnati area north of the CBD. In addition, plans are being developed for the proposed station areas near the University of Cincinnati and around Xavier University. Transit service and transportation policies were factors in the designation of a Federal Urban Empowerment Zone that includes a majority of the proposed stations.

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

The Low rating reflects the lack of progress in the commitment of non-Federal funds and the absence of a local entity to build and operate the proposed light rail project. The rating also reflects the lack of a capital plan for the project.

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. FTA did not receive any updated information on the financial condition of the two transit agencies that have agreed to jointly manage the proposed project.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The capital cost estimates and contingencies for the I-71 LRT are considered reasonable at this stage of project development. However, it is important to note that the contingencies are reliant on the as-yet-undetermined dedicated source of capital funding that will be determined as part of a local referendum that is scheduled to occur in late 2001.

Existing and Committed Funding: At this time, no non-Section 5309 New Starts funds are committed to the initial MOS of the LRT. The region (Ohio and Kentucky) in which the proposed 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.

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

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Low

The Low rating reflects the absence of a dedicated funding source for the operational requirements of the project. The rating also acknowledges the lack of a 20-year cash flow analysis to evaluate the stability of the operating plan for the LRT.

Agency Operating Condition: At this time, a local entity to operate the proposed light rail project has not been formally identified. Two local transit operators (SORTA and TANK) have entered into an interlocal agreement for the initial phases of project development. The agreement may likely be amended to also include the operation of the proposed LRT. At this time, 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 $15.9 million (escalated 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 to occur in November 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 2001)




Legislative Appropriations








Dedicated Transit Tax
Bond Revenues and Interest






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


Map of proposed 43-mile line in a corridor that extends north from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Florence, Kentucky to the City of Mason, Ohio.