OPINION: Columbus needs big ideas, but is a second outerbelt one of them?

Published in the Columbus Dispatch, January 31, 2023

This is an exciting time for Central Ohio.

Together we’ve built a growing region vibrant with opportunities, one that’s attracting new people and businesses and enticing our children and graduates to stay. Investments from Intel, Honda, and others confirm what we already know: this is a great place to call home.

Growth brings urgent clarity to invest in both necessary and transformative projects. We need big thinking so as we grow bigger, we can get better.

At the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, we work with communities to create an environment for prosperity. One way is through our transportation planning: using big ideas to create better options for everyone.

One big idea.

Improve our current system project by project across the region.

With Intel, supporting the transportation needs of Licking County and nearby communities is vital. Significant work is underway to ensure the project is well-served, but we should rally around efforts to improve the roads, bridges, trails, and transit needed for growth, safety, and quality of life.

Existing roads and highways around the region need upgrades. Plans envision major improvements to existing routes, smart technology projects, and new connections in growing Delaware and Fairfield Counties.

They include important freight routes at Rickenbacker and beyond. With focus, we could finish long-awaited projects along I-70 and I-71.

Another big idea?

Create new options with trains, transit, and trails. We should expect a system that serves everyone with more choices, from the heart of the city to growing hometowns.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconnect Columbus and rural Ohio to the nation’s passenger rail network, starting with quick service to Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati, and possibly Chicago, Detroit, or Pittsburgh.

LinkUS could create new rapid, reliable transit to spur needed housing, new access to jobs, and better service for those who need it most. We should invest in a robust regional transit network to improve rural transit and build upon the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s innovative mobility projects.

We could build out the regional trails system with plans for 500 new miles, create dedicated bike lanes, and invest in transformative efforts like RAPID5. These would elevate access to nature, drive economic development, and connect neighborhoods left behind.

And there are big ideas to improve safety. Furthering initiatives like Vision Zero Columbus could prevent 100s of deaths and 1000s of injuries annually. Extensive projects for walking and biking safety are critical.

What’s not a big new idea?

The second outerbelt, a topic of recent conversation and has been discussed many times since I-270 was proposed in the 1950s.

By MORPC’s preliminary estimates, a second outerbelt would involve building more than 150 miles of new highway at a potential cost of $10 to $15 billion.

That’s about five times what the Ohio Department of Transportation spent last year on highways for all of Ohio.

It could disrupt over 10,000 acres of prime farmland and beautiful natural areas. A project of such size and impact could make some hometowns unrecognizable, involve extensive use of eminent domain, and divert resources away from other necessary projects.

A second outerbelt is an idea that neither fixes today’s problems nor readies us for the future. 1950s thinking is not the way to prepare for 2050.

For much less, we can move forward with all the better big ideas above to dramatically improve everyone’s quality of life.

We can fix frustrating transportation mistakes around the region, improve safety and commutes, create new options from trains to trails, build new routes for freight and transit, and be more competitive for businesses and jobs.

Getting better as we grow bigger?

That’s a big idea worthy of investment.


William Murdock is executive director at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC’s purpose is to bring communities of all sizes and interests together to collaborate on best practices and planning for the future of the region.

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