COLUMNS

MORPC Matters: Planning underway for future of central Ohio transportation

THEA EWING
Thea Ewing

When many of us at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission were aspiring city planners and civil engineers a decade or more ago, we never could have guessed that the future of transportation involved us working on projects that would rely heavily on technology, strive for greater equity and reach well beyond the region in which we would work.

But today, MORPC team members are helping the region realize a remarkable evolution in the future of mobility -- working to apply that future in central Ohio and sharing those ideas with other regions that may replicate our work.

MORPC recently has completed plans that address the future of the transportation systems in the urban and rural areas of the region. These long-range plans identify transportation-system deficiencies, strategies and projects in central Ohio over the next 30 years.

Beyond the ordinary, we are planning systems that include new mobility modes, use cleaner energy and benefit from shared-mobility services. These projects will implement more autonomy, digitization and connectivity focused on equitable access to jobs, education, health care and more for all residents.

Ultimately, our goals are to move more people and goods faster, safer, cheaper and in a cleaner way.

Here are just a few of the exciting projects that could be in place before 2050:

* Multicorridor advanced rapid-transit system -- Beyond a standard bus system, this would build our corridors for on-road or light-rail vehicles that would have a dedicated travel lane and traffic-light preemption. This system would be designed to serve the denser population centers and move people quicker than cars.

* Coordinated rural-urban transit connections -- Rural transit service often operates in a smaller footprint, limiting residents' access to opportunities in the urbanized area. Conversely, urban transit services do not connect to rural areas. Continuity of transit services between urban and rural areas would be an opportunity that future residents of the region would be able to realize.

* Expanded regional trail network and on-road bike infrastructure -- Although there is nothing truly futuristic about more nonmotorized access, planning for it allows safer and more health-conscious opportunities for our community.

* Smart highway corridors -- Vehicles are becoming smarter, with onboard systems to help drivers. Adding more broadband fiber-optics infrastructure along our highway corridors to better coordinate traffic flow with traffic-control systems, installing variable speed-limit signs and having systems that communicate with our independent vehicles are the future of driving in the region.

* Hyperloop -- Yes, hyperloop! Imagine traveling to Chicago or Pittsburgh from the Columbus region in less than 30 minutes. This is planned for our future. A 600-plus-mph link for these three cities is planned through the construction of a hyperloop system by the year 2050.

Many people spend more than an hour traveling every day. We envision a region in which the transportation system enables them to be able to reclaim that.

This could mean that central Ohioans could spend time relaxing or working during travel times, as they no longer must drive themselves.

It might improve residents' health by creating opportunities to exercise via safer ways to walk or bike.

Through technology and focused infrastructure development, the transportation systems planned for the future of central Ohio will help create greater opportunity for prosperity and an improved quality of life for all.

Thea Ewing is the director of transportation and infrastructure development 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 plan for the future of the region.