Senator Rob Portman was in the City of Youngstown Friday afternoon. He was taking a bus tour that will soon be headed by a self-driving bus as part of a planned expansion of Youngstown’s transportation system.
We now know when the project will likely begin and whether the partial government shutdown could play a role in when it starts.
The project, run by the SMART2 Network, will happen in three phases. The first will be along Fifth Avenue, the second will be improving streets downtown and the third will be Rayen Avenue.
It’s been a project nearly three years in the making that will bring more than $25 million in investments to Youngstown.
Alongside Youngstown State President Jim Tressel, Mayor Tito Brown and other city leaders, Portman held a brief press conference before heading out to the bus tour.
“I will say one of the reasons we need to reopen the government is to make sure these checks get cut,” he said.
Portman joked that the government shutdown could affect the project. Jim Kinnick, the director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments — a group which aims to improve the quality of life for Northeast Ohio residents — said it would be a long time before that happened.
“We could use some of the local commitment to the grant after the grant was filed.”
If needed, the city could use $375,000 in private funding to start the project.
“When we’d need the real money is for construction at the end of the year, so we have enough to front to continue to move the project forward. We won’t lose a beat here,” Kinnick said.
Construction is set to begin at the end of the year and the project’s timeline is now starting to take shape, though Mayor Brown is hopeful the city can complete it quicker than that.
“We say seven years but our project managers say we could cut that in half if we become more aggressive with it, so maybe three-and-a-half to four years,” he said.
Those years will be spent making improvements to roads, including shortening some lanes by YSU. One concern is that students cross five to six lanes of traffic and it takes a long time to cross that distance.
The city also plans to get two self-driving buses. The vehicles will cost around $1 million total but the city won’t be buying them. Instead, leaders will contract with a company to provide the services.
“Two to three years from now, the technology is going to change. The vehicles are good for ten years. It makes no sense to invest in vehicles,” said Charles Nelson, with WRTA.
Nelson said there is also a focus on renewable energy. They plan to try to use solar power along the bus shelters for the new routes.