- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Amid national discussion about how to avoid more traffic congestion, officials mapping out Ohio’s transportation projects for the next few decades are considering how buses, bicycles and other modes of transit might fit with solo-driver commutes and the Midwestern mindset.

The average commute to work in each of Ohio’s eight largest metropolitan regions clocks in under 25 minutes, slightly under the national average of nearly 26 minutes, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data from 2013, the most recent available.

Most commuters are solo drivers, especially in urban areas, and they face plenty of slowdowns and backups. A recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transportation research group TRIP suggests motorists in some of Ohio’s largest cities lose a day or two of time annually to congestion.

Officials hope to ensure that population shifts and other changes in the coming years don’t cause more gridlock grief, which can affect the quality of life and the state’s economy. That means planning now for massive projects, such as replacing the decaying Brent Spence bridge that links Cincinnati with northern Kentucky, and smaller ones, such as new bike paths in Toledo or road resurfacing in Steubenville.

Many of Ohio’s largest metropolitan areas are projected to become more populous by 2020, including the Akron, Canton, Cincinnati and Dayton areas. The greatest growth is anticipated in the Columbus region, which is expected to surpass the shrinking population of the Cleveland-Elyria metro area, and that’s a big factor for planners in the capital.

“We’re a Midwestern city in a Midwestern state where people really do value their personal vehicle. … I think we’re seeing some changes to that, but overall maybe not like other major metro areas where they already have strong transit systems in play,” said Thea Walsh, director of transportation systems and funding for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

The agency’s long-range plan includes road work, expanded bus services and bicycle and pedestrian trails.

In Cincinnati, a different way to get around is in the works. The $148 million streetcar service is slated to open next year, shuttling people on a 3.6-mile loop to the riverfront.

With project price tags often in the millions, it’s no surprise funding is always a big concern for construction and repair work.

“To remain on top of the world’s economy, we need to invest in a world-class infrastructure,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said recently in a conference call. The Democrat from Ohio is advocating for Congress to break with recent practice and pass long-term transportation funding as the current bill is set to expire this summer.

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