Editorial: $4 gas prices yet another reason we need more than cars to get around

A recent editorial by the Columbus Dispatch:

Long before President Joe Biden announced the nation’s ban on Russian oil and warned of a price spike, there were ample reasons to hasten the end of Ohio’s toxic romance with fossil fuel for something far more sustainable.

But prices nearing — and in some places exceeding — $4 gallon at the pump amplify the urgency for Columbus and the rest of the Buckeye State to become more electric vehicle-friendly and invest in public transportation systems that are accessible, affordable, functional and equitable.

Driving a car should not be the good option to get from point A to point B.

This state, region and city are in desperate need of more efficient public ground transportation including passenger trains, rail transit systems and buses.

For what it is worth, the price of gas is up for debate in the Statehouse.

Senate Bill 277, sponsored by Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, would roll Ohio’s motor fuel tax down to to 28-cents a gallon from 47 cents a gallon for diesel fuel and 38.5 cents for gasoline.

It would also eliminate special registration fees of $100 and $200 for those who own the state’s 123,000 hybrid and 31,000 electric vehicles for the next five years. Huffman argues that the state is set to get $11.3 billion from the federal government and Ohioans should be keeping more of their money.

There seems to be fat chance his gas bill will go anywhere quickly.

Gov. Mike DeWine fought for the higher gas taxes in 2019. He the Ohio Department of Transportation say the money is needed to repair highways, bridges and other projects. The state would lose $4 billion in revenue over the next five years if it were gone.

Both arguments have merit, but at the end the day the fuel tax is a Band-Aid that conceals the fact that Ohio needs better ways to get around.

There are economic, environmental, lifestyle and health reasons why the state must take this seriously as cities like Columbus grow and others shrink.

“Any community that wishes to maintain equitable access to public transit, improve community health, attract new residents and/or reduce its emissions will need to make careful plans to adequately respond to these changing conditions,” a 2019 report from the Ohio Department of Health reads.

Ohioans get the need for light rail, improved buses and train service that link our major cities.

We need our lawmakers to get it as well.

It is high time they got onboard with Amtrak’s plan to build passenger rail lines between Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. The $100 million needed to build the line would come from the infrastructure package Biden signed last year.

Amtrak would cover the cost of construction, track upgrades and operating costs for at least five years. Ohio would then split the estimated $17 million to $20 million annual operating costs with Amtrak.

That’s no chump change, but it seems a price we should be willing to pay to get the mobility, economic and environmental benefits.

… With the announcement of Intel’s $20 billion plan to build two new semiconductor factories just east of Columbus, Ohio’s most financially secure area has even more pressing reasons to find solutions to transportation issues here.

Put plainly, how will all those new Intel workers get to work safely and efficiently?

Having them all drive individual cars will only exacerbate the problem.

The transportation problem is complicated and there is much ground to be made up here.

Situated in the heart of Ohio, Columbus is the nation’s second largest city without an extensive train or bus system connecting it to other cities, according to a 2017 DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development study.

The city’s metro area is the second largest in the nation without some form of inter-city passenger rail service.

Light rail, a subway system and other transportation issues have been top of mind for those offering suggestions to Columbus Downtown Development Corporation for its a new Downtown strategic plan, according to reporting by the Dispatch.

“We really need quality public transportation with downtown as a major hub. Preferably some sort of above ground tram or train. This would increase the number of people that spend time downtown and would make it more accessible to all,” one person commented.

… Change will not happen overnight, but Ohio cannot afford to live off of fossil made from the remains of animals and plants that died millions of years ago.

Columbus and the rest of the state must move into the future with new ways of reaching each other and the nation.

— Columbus Dispatch, March 13