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State reviews more than 200 requests for transit funding

Unknown yet if money will be given for Trumbull partnership

WARREN — The state did not announce Monday, as originally planned, whether it will appropriate some of the $44 million in transportation budget money set aside for local transit systems to assist a new partnership forming between the Western Reserve Transit Authority and Trumbull County.

WRTA is applying for approximately $1.6 million to create a fixed-route service in Trumbull County that would hub around the city’s Courthouse Square.

There were more than 200 applications requesting about $180 million worth of transit projects from the pool of $44 million to be divided among public transit entities, said Dean Harris, executive director of WRTA.

“They had so many applications and a tight timeline for turning around answers,” Harris said. “It is no surprise that it is going to take a little bit longer than we thought.”

Harris said some projects could be announced later this week, or the state may wait until it has all of the decisions on appropriations finalized.

The state transportation budget passed earlier this year set aside $70 million over the next two years for public transit systems, and $44 million of that is expected to be allocated soon.

The investment nearly doubled the amount of money the state appropriated for local transit in 2017, according to Greater Ohio Policy Center. The same budget also increased the motor fuel tax by 10.5 cents, raising it from 28 cents to 38.5 cents per gallon.

The additional appropriations reverse a trend in state public transportation investments.

“The new funding approved represents the largest investment on the part of the state for public transit in at least a generation. Between 2000 and 2019, state funding for public transit had decreased by nearly 85 percent — to a level of funding not seen since the early 1980s,” according to the policy center.

But it still falls short of recommendations made by Ohio Policy Matters to increase spending on public transit.

“The state woefully underfunds Ohio’s public transportation systems. The Ohio Department of Transportation estimated in 2015 that the state should be contributing $125 million to local public transit to meet market demand and replace obsolete equipment, a sum that should rise to $185 million a year by 2025,” an Ohio Policy Matters report states.

The report found the state had decreased its investment in local systems by 71 percent between 2000 and 2018, adjusted for inflation.

But Harris and Mike Salamone, Trumbull County Transit administrator, are hoping a regionalized partnership proposal will catch the state’s eye even though there won’t be enough cash to go around for all 200 projects requesting some of the coveted money.

The Ohio Department of Transportation favors funding regional projects, Harris and Salamone said, and that may give their application more gravity in the selection process.

“ODOT wants regionalization and stability, and I think our plan shows both,” Salamone said.

The grant money would fund operating costs. Existing WRTA mini-buses, and perhaps a few new ones, would operate the hourly service.

The exact routes are not finalized, and the public will have the chance to influence the selected routes if WRTA is granted the money.

The service could be funded for 15 months if the application is approved.

They also applied for about $800,000 for WRTA to provide “paratransit” services in Trumbull County, too, meaning people could call for a ride 24 hours in advance to go from place to place in Trumbull County, off the fixed-route service, Harris said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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