DAYTON — Creating partnerships to provide transportation across county lines seems to be an idea whose time has come.
The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) has recently undertaken a two-year, nine-county study of mobility needs within and between counties. It is one of two such studies — one in the western part of the state and one in the eastern part — the are funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).
“ODOT came to us with this idea,” said MVRPC Executive Director Brian Martin, recently. “We have an established transportation council that has met quarterly for years.”
ODOT provided grant funding equalling $300,000 for the western study. The money pays for staff time, consultant resources and packaging recommendations that come from the findings.
MVRPC hired Alexandra Growel as the transit coordination planner to oversee the study. She has an office at Catholic Social Services in Sidney and is in Shelby County two days each week.
“My job is to get out there to see what the barriers (to intercounty transportation) are. It’s also to foster collaboration for services within counties,” Growel said.
As counties develop their own plans to meet transportation challenges, the need for sharing services has come to the fore.
“We are looking for ways that, if there are barriers, that Alex finds where they can scratch each other’s backs” so services are increased in a cost-effective way, said Kim Lahman, MVRPC director of sustainable solutions and transportation alternatives.
The project is in its beginning phases. Growel has been meeting with stakeholders in the nine counties — Shelby, Miami, Darke, Champaign, Preble, Greene, Clark, Logan and Montgomery — to learn about the policies in each, how the policies work and who pays for the services. Then, she will develop guidelines for aligning the policies with each other.
The results of the study will illustrate the need for intercounty transport that has been a need for a long time.
“ODOT has been working on transit coordination for more than 20 years,” Martin said. “They keep running into their own regulations or federal regulations about how it’s funded. It seems like it should all be streamlined.”
Lahman noted that regulations must be broadened because some mobility organizations aren’t permitted to cross county lines or don’t have funding to cross county lines.
If a local transit agency is going to Columbus from Sidney, it should be able to take two passengers instead of one and to stop in Marysville and pick up three more, the planners said.
“That’s the dream. We’re looking to coordinate county plans so they flow well together,” Martin said.
“Alex’s role is to look at the big picture, working with mobility managers and those folks who are providing services while others are in the trenches,” Lahman added.
After four months of meeting, greeting and setting the groundwork for the study, Growel has already found an important, positive condition in these western Ohio counties: “Everyone is more than willing to collaborate with each other,” she said.
Martin thinks the study will move into a second phase after December 2019 and that a nine-county plan will go into effect.
“This is really exciting that ODOT gave us this opportunity to work with nine counties to bring about changes that need to happen,” Lahman said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.