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RTA riders concerned, state rejects portion of badly needed funding

Posted at 10:41 PM, Nov 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-14 11:42:12-05

CLEVELAND — RTA riders and public transit advocacy groups were left concerned after the Ohio Department of Transportation rejected an RTA request for $60 million in funding to help replace the aging system.

Ken Prendergast, Executive Director for All Aboard Ohio, told News 5 the state turning down RTA for badly needed rail replacement dollars is a crushing blow to a transit system that's becoming more of a safety and reliability risk.

“It very much is a safety risk, and that’s one of ODOT’s main criteria when it evaluates projects it’s going to put money into,” Prendergast said.

“It’s disappointing and it’s unfortunate because it’s contradictory to what ODOT should be doing, which is moving people and goods.”

Prendergast pointed a growing number of RTA rail line breakdowns for the eight million riders who use the system annually.

“That’s a lot of people that have to get to work, to school, to medical appointments. It’s basically their lives,” Prendergast said.

“We’re running with one of the oldest fleets in the country.”

"RTA is cannibalizing their fleet to keep the rest of the fleet going and eventually they’re going to run out of enough cars to operate the rail system.”

Michael Schipper, RTA Deputy General Manager, told News 5 he thought the $60 million ODOT funding request was a long shot due to ODOT's narrow eligibility criteria.

Schipper said RTA tried to argue the red line's 34 rail cars and 24 cars in the light rail system aren't buses.

ODOT responded and said it approved other RTA funding requests, and explained the rejection of the $60M request:

"The October 9th decision by the nine-member Transportation Review Advisory Council, was simply that TRAC, which funds infrastructure projects, was not the appropriate program to fund the request for replacing rolling stock.

"ODOT awarded the agency $15 million this year, which included 100 percent funding of their top-priority request for preventative maintenance on their rail system."

"It also included 50 percent of their number two priority request to help replace decades-old rail cars. GCRTA netted more than a quarter of all the funding in the Ohio Transit Partnership Program." .

Meanwhile, Schipper admitted cars in the RTA rail system are well past their suggest replacement date, but he remains optimistic, and said RTA has identified $118 million of the $240 million required to replace the system.

“We have a tremendous backlog of capitol needs, the rail cars and other infrastructure,” Schipper said.

“Rail cars normally have a 30-year useful life, our rail cars have exceeded that useful life.”

"But we’re starting winter, we’re going to be out there everyday, and we’re going to make the best we can with what we have.”

RTA leaders will now take a two-day trip to Washington D.C. starting on Nov. 12 in search of federal funding.

Here are instructions for using RTA in making your way to the Nov. 14 Browns football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.