Bills being drafted for Ohio to rejoin multi-state passenger rail commission
Ohio lawmakers from both parties and chambers are planning to introduce concurrent bills later this year to rejoin the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC).
In 2013, the state relinquished its MIPRC member status under Republican former Gov. John Kasich—and according to a news release from the Democratic caucus at the time, didn’t settle member fee debt for some time after. The decision came after Kasich turned down $400 million in federal grants for an Amtrak line running from Cleveland to Cincinnati.
“John Kasich, when he became governor, rejected those dollars and turned his back on passenger rail while other states around us took advantage of those dollars,” Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) said in an interview Friday.
Skindell and other stakeholders who are part of a revitalized passenger rail push say that since Ohio’s withdrawal, the state has been left out of a decade of regional planning and potential funding discussions regarding Amtrak and other passenger transit.
“Ohio has claimed that without being part of the commission, they get the same information. However, they're not part of the discussions when the Midwestern states are discussing, planning passenger rail development, going after federal rail dollars. Ohio is just not part of that,” he said. “We are not at the table.”
In December, the Federal Railroad Administration announced it would bankroll the first phase of studies for four proposed Amtrak lines in Ohio, both new and extended.
That stage will take anywhere from one to three years, so there is little action for the Ohio Legislature to take on the issue until the next budget cycle, said John Esterly, a board member of rail advocacy organization All Aboard Ohio.
“In terms of getting the process started, the legislature has already done its job,” Esterly said in an interview Thursday.
But as the state prepares for the potential of this long-haul project, he believes it would be well-served to reclaim its seat among the interstate commission.
The Ohio House’s version of a bill to do that will be introduced in the next month or so, Skindell said, and several of his GOP colleagues have signed on to it. He has brought the idea forward before, but not in the form of a bill.
The Senate’s proposal also has bipartisan backing, but according to Esterly it’s not as far along.
The annual fee to be in the MIPRC is $25,000, Skindell said. Ohio’s eligible midwestern neighbors, Indiana and Michigan, are already members—as are Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin.