SARTA consultant gathering public feedback Canton streetcar concept
June 16, 2022
CANTON – It’s not yet clear how the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority would pay for a proposed streetcar train service between the Akron-Canton Airport, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and downtown Canton.
But SARTA’s consultant Tim Rosenberger of WSP USA and other government officials revealed more key details of how the concept has evolved since last year. They spoke at a public meeting Wednesday at the Constellation Center for Excellence in the Hall of Fame Village. More hearings are set for Thursday.
- The cost is expected to be anywhere from $50 million to $100 million with federal grants covering 50% to 80%.
- Planners do not yet have a plan to finance the operational cost of the train service. Rosenberger said selling the name rights to a corporate sponsor could be one source of revenue. Asking for contributions by private businesses or foundations is another option.
- The purpose would be to allow people to park farther from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Hall of Fame Village and then take the street car to those destinations. SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad said a train would be far more efficient and faster than using a fleet of shuttle buses . It would also serve those traveling to and from the airport.
- A initial feasibility study by WSP at a cost of $100,000 funded by a federal grant will be completed by September. Rosenberger was getting public feedback in hearings Wednesday and Thursday as part of his study.
- The timeline for design, engineering, environmental studies and construction could take three to five years.
- The train service, which would employ 25, would run every 15 minutes at least initially from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. And less frequently on weekends.
- Planners are focused on a project scope where the northern end of the railroad line would be the Akron-Canton Airport. The southern end would be the Cornerstone Transit Center on Cherry Street SE.
- The entire line would be 9.8 miles and the train would take about 30 minutes to travel the length.
- The train would have human operators and would not be autonomous. But Rosenberger said he could look at how much an autonomous train would cost.
- The service would use the former Wheeling and Erie Railroad line from Akron to Canton that’s roughly parallel with Interstate 77. Akron METRO now owns the railroad line.
- The consultant, WSP, has not yet estimated daily ridership. But it’s potentially thousands, said SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad. The Hall of Fame Village will have 3,000 parking spots, yet expects to grow to 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a day.
- Planners are nowhere close to deciding who would own the service, if it would be owned by a private not-for-profit organization or run by SARTA or another entity.
- Contractors would have to tear up at least the northern half of Third Street SW and Third Street SE to install rail tracks. They would run one way on most of the road except for sections where trains going opposite directions could pass each other.
- Conrad said SARTA is not considering asking voters to approve an increase in the sales tax to pay to operate the train service.
- Planners do not anticipate having to acquire any property by eminent domain or demolish any homes. As much of the existing rail line is on established rail right-of-way.
AIRPORT OR BUST
Rosenberger said planners have opted at this point not to go with first building a streetcar between Hall of Fame and downtown Canton because the cost of the maintenance facility and other infrastructure is the same whether the line includes the airport.
Mayor Tom Bernabei, attending another meeting in the Center for Excellence said about the streetcar concept: “Excited about the possibilities. That’s the kind of connectivity we would hope for and pray for,” he said.
About 10 people attended the meeting. Many appeared to be government officials or members of the media.
More hearings are scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Stark County District Library at 715 Market Ave. N and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at SARTA’s Belden Village Transit Center at 4700 Whipple Ave. NW.
Milton Young, an advocate for people with disabilities said, “I like the concept,” but he expressed concern about how people with disabilities could get to stations with many in areas with a lack of sidewalks.
Rosenberger said it was not within the project scope to build three miles of sidewalk. But it could include improving sidewalks and crosswalks around the stations.
He said about 100 people have filled out an online survey, sharing their thoughts about the concept. Rosenberger said some believe it would improve the community.
“And there’s people who say this is insane,” he added.