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Northeast Ohio transportation agencies make long term plans for federal infrastructure dollars

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is looking to use the federal infrastructure funding for some capital projects such as replacing railway equipment. [Tim Harrison / Ideastream Public Media]
An RTA railway station

The federal infrastructure bill signed by President Biden this week will provide funding for improvements across a broad range of areas, including water quality, roads and bridges and broadband internet access.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who helped negotiate the bipartisan deal, said the funding is long overdue, particularly in Ohio, which has the second-highest number of bridges in the country.

“There’s just a lot in this legislation that is overdue. Our infrastructure is in bad shape, people have been talking about it for three decades,” Portman said. “Finally, we’re doing something about it.”

The bill, which received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, shows what lawmakers can accomplish by working together, Portman said.

“This is a popular bill because it does help. It helps with congestion, it helps on drinking water, safe drinking water, it helps on safety. Things people care about,” Portman said. “I hope that this bill will not only help fix our crumbling infrastructure in Ohio but also will help get our country focused more on, how do we actually get stuff done?”

There’s no timeline for distributing the funds at this time, Portman said, but officials are working to get the money out as quickly as they can.

RTA's priorities

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority hasn’t been allotted any specific dollar amount yet, said spokesperson Linda Krecic, but the agency is looking to use the funding for much-needed improvements to its equipment, as well as addressing about $340 million worth of unfunded capital projects.

“We need a new system. So we have been squirreling away dollars for many, many years, but certainly, infrastructure dollars that would be provided by this bill would go a long way into helping move that project forward,” Krecic said.

RTA's priorities include replacing buses over the next few years and updating the rail system, Krecic said, including new trains in the city by 2026. 

The railway system is the oldest in the country, Krecic said, and while the agency has done what it can to keep it safe and in good repair, the additional funding would make a considerable difference.

“We are looking forward to and have been planning to replace that aging infrastructure, the rail cars, the track, everything that’s involved in upgrading the rail system and bringing it into the 21 st century,” Krecic said.

The future of transportation

Others are looking at the bill as a way to plan for the future of transportation. The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) could use funding it receives for projects included in its long-range plan, said Executive Director and CEO Grace Gallucci, including projects that they hadn’t been able to find funding for previously.

“Some of those projects are very big projects, megaprojects for the region such as more connections to Hopkins International Airport,” Gallucci said.

The money could also make way for future developments like autonomous vehicles and hyperloops like the one proposed for Cleveland, Gallucci said. It’s important to start investing in things like electric vehicle chargers now to keep up with demand in the future, she said.

“I think this infrastructure bill will help us get a jumpstart on ensuring that the infrastructure of the future is not, doesn’t leave Ohio behind and that we are prepared for it,” Gallucci said.