A major transportation study of northwest Columbus set to begin in December will provide the city and several partner agencies with a glimpse of a region beset by the most complex challenges for design and engineering, officials say.

The Northwest Corridor Mobility Study, which will take 18 months to complete, will identify the best high-capacity transit option to move people efficiently and safely along that corridor, said Debbie Briner, spokeswoman for the Columbus Department of Public Service.

The city has approved a $1 million contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates to lead the project, Briner said. Columbus and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission will kick in $200,000 each and Ohio State University and the Central Ohio Transit Authority each will contribute $100,000.

Nationwide Insurance, OhioHealth and White Castle are among the largest private contributors that will donate the remainder of the money, she said.

The study will include several steps, such as collecting and analyzing data and identifying and evaluating transit options to determine a preferred one to implement.

"There will be very active stakeholder and community engagement throughout the entire process," Briner said.

The study essentially will center on Olentangy River Road between Bethel and West Broad streets. The city believes the corridor has potential for job growth and connects multiple major institutions and employers, Briner said.

Local agencies are immediately concerned about two problem areas: the state Route 315 interchange at King Avenue and Olentangy River Road at Lennox Town Center and the point where Olentangy River Road becomes Twin Rivers Drive near West Goodale Street, Briner said.

The central Ohio population is expected to grow by 1 million people by 2050, the city says, making it critical to get out in front of transportation issues, Briner said. The Northwest Corridor Mobility Study is expected to be followed by other planning initiatives, she said. Some may begin before the northwest corridor plan is complete, she said.

The planning process will include community engagement to help identify a preferred mobility strategy for a high-capacity transit option and better bicycle and pedestrian connectivity, Briner said.

"In addition, an accompanying transit-friendly development strategy will be created that may recommend land-use planning and zoning changes to better support the transit system identified for the corridor," she said.

Nick Cipiti, president of the Northwest Civic Association, said he endorses the corridor study.

"If we are expecting explosive growth in the coming years, it only makes sense to study and plan for better ways to move people around town," Cipiti said. "I hope light rail is in the discussion."

Briner said many ideas could emerge out of the planning process.

"We're really going into it with an open mind," she said. "I think what they're looking at is just something that can be built within the next five years. Nothing's off the table."