High speed rail back in conversation

First Posted: 8/7/2014

LIMA — The mayors of Lima and Kenton were among nine mayors from Ohio and Indiana who were part of a memorandum of agreement Wednesday calling for the development of a high-speed passenger rail corridor running from Chicago through Fort Wayne, Indiana, and ending at Columbus.

Also signing the agreement Wednesday were the mayors of Marysville and Columbus in Ohio, as well as the mayors of Fort Wayne, Warsaw, Plymouth, Valparaiso and Gary in Indiana, as well as the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

“We had a couple of local representatives that came to our council meeting, and it seemed like everyone was in favor of it,” Kenton Mayor Randy Manns said.

For Manns, the benefits to Kenton would be seen in multiple areas.

“Personally, I think it would be great for people travel-wise for vacations going to Columbus and elsewhere,” he said. “I think it would also be great for the city of Kenton in terms of economic growth and development, even to the point of bringing workers in, if people decided they did not want to drive here to work.”

The memorandum makes note of the economic benefits as well, stating that creating a transportation link between Chicago and Columbus would “make the entire corridor more economically competitive and stimulate economic benefits to the cities, counties, villages and townships along and in close proximity to the line.” The memorandum pointed to Kenton being a hub of transportation, with six state and federal highways traveling through the community, as well as Lima’s status as a regional hub for manufacturing as additional reasons why bringing high-speed rail in would make sense.

“We’re going to present it again to the council on Monday to update them on what’s going on, and I imagine we will be signing it that day,” he said. “It’s great for the city and the outlying areas.”

This is not the first time high-speed rail has been considered for this area, with plans for a possible Chicago-Pittsburgh line discussed back in 2004. Those plans, which took on various forms over the next several years, fell apart when Governor John Kasich declined $400 million in federal money for high-speed rail in 2010.

“It was several years ago when this was last discussed, and it fell through at the last minute,” Manns said.

That previous setback has not deterred this group of mayors, who are hopeful that an Environmental Impact Study could begin as early as late 2014, examining the engineering of several potential routes.

“That would take about a year or two to get that accomplished, from what I understand,” Manns said. “If we don’t start now, though, we’d never get it done.”

In terms of cost, Manns emphasized that the city has not committed any funds to this venture as of yet.

“I don’t believe we’d have to contribute anything to that first study,” he said. “If we had to contribute anything, it would be very minimal. We’d have to evaluate the cost of it after the study and go from there. We’re not committing any money right now.”

If built, this 300-mile long corridor would operate as many as 12 trains daily in each direction, with express service taking passengers from Chicago to Columbus in less than four hours.

While this plan is still in its very early stages, initial community reaction to the idea has been positive, according to Manns.

“As far as the people on the council, along with other people that I’ve spoken with about it, there are more for it than against it right now,” he said.

Lima Mayor David Berger could not be reached for comment.