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Licking County begins two-year transportation study with new hope ahead of Intel

ms consultants, inc.

October 13, 2022

NEWARK − For decades, transportation planners have struggled to find a sustainable system to respond to the transportation needs of lower-income residents and workers throughout Licking County.


The Licking County Area Transportation Study launched a two-year study of Licking County’s transportation needs on Tuesday with the hope this effort will finally reveal those long-sought, long-term solutions that work in urban and rural areas all over the county.


LCATS hired MS Consultants to lead the study, with assistance from EBP, a national firm that does economic development planning, analysis and forecasting, and Toole Design, a Columbus group that does bicycle and pedestrian work.


The initial meeting included Matt Hill, director of LCATS, Katie Sieb, project manager and transportation planner with MS Consultants, of Columbus, Chad Brown, the Licking County health commissioner, Deb Dingus, executive director of United Way of Licking County, John Fisher, executive director of Licking County Job and Family Services, Jennifer Roberts, executive director of Evans Foundation, and Ben Broyles, vice president of Licking Memorial Health Systems community health and wellness.


Roberts said current planning efforts are unlike any in the past.


The Evans Foundation has launched a 15-community, public-private planning effort to help prepare for the $20 billion Intel Corporation computer chip development on 1,000 acres just south of Johnstown.


“Never in the history of Licking County have 15 jurisdictions come together to work on a project,” Roberts said. “That is happening because we have this catalyst and this moment in time.”


The initiative, labeled Framework, seeks to produce a collaborative vision, addressing economics, land use, character of place, transportation and other topics.


“We need to think about our planning in a different way. Traditionally, transportation projects have failed, and things have not worked or been short-lived, but I think this is a different time.


“Things that may not have worked in the past are going to work because we have this extraordinary opportunity. We just have to plan and be really thoughtful about it.”


Hill said the long-term, visioning transportation study is something he wanted to do years ago, but now it's finally happening.


“Previously, I didn't have leadership support and this time I am the leadership," Hill said. "In January, when they announced Intel, I realized this is something we should have done four years ago, but we had already started this process, which was fortunate.”


Sieb said the goal is to have the LCATS Board approve the plan in April 2024. A countywide bike trail network, closing gaps and making connections, is proposed as part of the project.


“This is day one," Sieb said. "We are just now starting. We’re going to have a public web site, a public survey launching in the next week to two weeks.


“We’ll go to community events and meetings to get a sense of what people are interested in, especially for that biking and walking piece. We’re excited to do a ton of engagement over the next year and a half.”


Dingus said an experimental program several years ago provided bus transportation from Newark to the New Albany Personal Care and Beauty Campus in Jersey Township. It failed, she said, because some workers did not work full days with predictable shifts, and they stopped riding.


“So, if they got there all the way to the western part of the county and they didn’t need that many workers on the line that day, then they might be sitting there all day and they didn’t have a way to get back.


“So, we needed transportation that was flexible and available for a variety of times. The other (reason) was they didn’t have childcare and worked at industries with three shifts. They didn’t have anyone to watch their kids.”


Fisher fears the influx of employees of Intel and its many suppliers will make it even more difficult for lower-wage employers to find workers, especially as the nation's labor force shrinks with Baby Boomers retiring.


“Low-paying jobs like daycare -- individuals don’t want to take those jobs,” Fisher said. “And they move to higher-paying jobs. So, with a lack of daycare, you get into situations because those that want to work, can’t work because they have to take care of their kids.”


So, ironically, the person who leaves a daycare job to work at Intel may be unable to find childcare that allows them to earn the higher wage.


One reason the bus failed, Fisher said, was because it succeeded in getting lower-income people without transportation to a good-paying job.


"When they get the money, the first thing they do is buy a car," Fisher said.


One reason they failed was people used the bus to get to a good-paying job eventually could afford a car and didn’t need the bus anymore. They value their independence as they move up the financial ladder. So, it wasn’t financially feasible to keep the route up because you’re losing riders.”


Broyles said Licking Memorial began providing its own transportation about four years ago just to get people to their doctor appointments.


“Access to care remains a significant issue within our county and that’s something we really need to focus on,” Broyles said. “We started with one vehicle and one driver. And then two vehicles and two drivers and then expanded the hours.


“Just getting something started, even if it’s a fixed route on a small scale, up and down Main Street here within Newark. That’s a start and then you can kind of grow from there.”


The fracking boom in areas east of Licking County created a camping phenomenon that Intel could repeat in Licking County, Brown said. Especially if companies pay the workers’ rent, driving up local rent costs.


“People were moving into campers and living in campgrounds full-time,” Brown said. “I think that’s something we’re going to see, just with the number of construction workers that are going to be hired.


“We’re going to see that start to occur. People are going to be displaced because these guys are going to make a lot of money and don’t care what the rent is.”


Originally published by Kent Mallett with Newark Advocate.