Debate Forum Left 11/24/10

Maha Kashani Maha Kashani

Dear Governor-Elect John Kasich, Ohioans are asking for Due Diligence

By Maha Kashani

Maha Kashani

On January 28, 2010, U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was awarding $8 billion to states across the country for a national high-speed passenger rail system as an investment in our country’s transportation infrastructure to create jobs, transform travel in America and keep us on pace with the rest of the world. Ohio worked long and hard to secure $400 million, substantially more than any of our neighboring states, for the high-speed passenger rail system connecting Dayton to Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

Fast forward to election season, I will never forget first hearing those chilling words, “Ohio’s high-speed passenger train is dead” spoken by Governor-elect John Kasich. Having just sat through a meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) about the future of transportation in Ohio, I was blown away that a candidate for governor could state inaccurate facts and paint a false picture for Ohioans about wanting to give the $400M, earmarked exclusively for high-speed passenger rail, back to our taxpayers.

Unfortunately, putting that money back in our taxpayers’ pockets is not a reality. If Ohio’s high-speed passenger rail project is “dead,” then we can kiss our $400 million grant, thousands of jobs, freight rail infrastructure upgrade plans and subsequent economic development opportunities goodbye. New York, California, Illinois, and Florida were among the states quick to raise their hands and ask for Ohio’s piece of the pie. Even the terminator, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in disbelief over Kasich’s statements, announcing “it is with a certain sense of astonishment that we note recent announcements from some of our gubernatorial colleagues that they are uninterested in federal contributions to their high-speed rail systems.” Astonishment is right.

The cost to operate this train? 0.5 percent of ODOT’s annual protected budget, which is separate from our state’s struggling general budget, equates to just $1.50 per Ohioan, per year. What does it cost to maintain our roadways? Over 80 percent of ODOT’s annual budget, which is more than $110 per Ohioan, per year. Who is the number one culprit behind the massive roadway damages that ODOT is responsible for fixing? Semi-trucks. What are semis transporting? Cargo. What will $236M of the $400M Ohio was awarded go towards? Freight rail infrastructure upgrades, which can take some of those trucks off the roads and strengthen Ohio as a major logistical hub in the United States. This isn’t just about passenger rail – freight rail plays a huge part of this project’s importance. Think big picture.

Can you imagine if Ohio opted out of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956? There were many nay-sayers back then who harshly criticized President Eisenhower for this $25 billion act to construct a 41,000-mile interstate highway system. Think about that for a second.

It’s no secret that Ohio is having financial woes. I absolutely agree with Governor-elect Kasich; we do need to run this state like a business and balance the books. That being said, if we’re going to run this state like a business, then let’s run it like a real business. Businesses are constantly working to identify growth opportunities, including ways to diversify themselves and stay competitive in the marketplace. How can a seasoned businessman be offered a $400M grant and not even consider investing that money in his business, the state of Ohio? I know, it’s political, but as a taxpayer I’m taking a stance to say it’s unacceptable.

Here are a few facts to chew on. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that at least 8,000 direct, indirect and spin-off jobs will be created in Ohio and that the economic impact on downtown Dayton alone would be $18M. The City of Riverside estimates a $100M economic impact from the Center of Flight project revolving around the proposed train station. Ohio’s rail supply chain industry, currently 225 businesses employing 26,000 people and ranked fifth in the nation is in jeopardy. Historically, property values around train stations increase 20-30%. Oh, and China just announced that they are pouring $120 billion into high-speed passenger rail.

Our country’s population is estimated to increase by 70 million people over the next 30 years. With gas prices steadily rising, how are we going to safely and cost-effectively transport all these people? Must we rely solely on cars and airplanes to move around our state and this country? Travel time from downtown Dayton to downtown Cleveland on the 3C passenger rail would be four hours and four minutes. According to Google Maps, with no traffic or stops, driving would take three hours and 45 minutes. That’s only 19 minutes longer to drive the trip handcuffed to a steering wheel, than by train. I’d love to bring my laptop, jump on the train’s WiFi and spend that time catching up with my network on Facebook.

Where is the due diligence? We have an opportunity to pump $400M into our state to turn around our economy and I have yet to hear a compelling argument about why Governor-Elect Kasich is so passionate about giving away our money. This incoming administration owes it to Ohio taxpayers to at least try to develop a better plan for the use of $400M to help revitalize Ohio’s economy. All we ask is that this administration do its job. If there is no way to prove this project will be beneficial to Ohio, then explain that to the citizens and we will be more at rest with the decision. My message to Governor-Elect Kasich – Let’s think outside the box, execute this project properly and take advantage of “low hanging fruit” to develop game-changing opportunities for OH-IO!

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