SARTA hires consultant to explore light rail between Hall of Fame, downtown Canton
February 10, 2022
CANTON – The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority has hired a consultant to study establishing light-rail passenger train service between the Pro Football Hall of Fame and downtown Canton.
Transit CEO Kirt Conrad said the SARTA board last week approved a contract for consultant WSP USA.
Conrad said he will have discussions with WSP over the next week on the scope of the study and the timeline. He expects the consultant will solicit public comments on the proposed project in the spring. And he hopes the consultant can complete the study by December.
SARTA’s request for proposal envisions a timeline of six months for the study.
If SARTA’s board chooses then to proceed, SARTA would apply for federal grants to provide at least 80% of the estimated $25 million to $50 million it would take to bring light rail to Canton. The transit company is looking at the project as the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co. continues to build the extensive Hall of Fame Village powered by Johnson Controls around the Hall of Fame.
The project would use a north-south rail line between Canton and Akron that is now owned by the Metro Regional Transit Authority in Akron. Additional tracks would need to be built to extend into downtown Canton.
WHAT WILL WSP STUDY?
WSP will analyze a variety of issues and provide estimates for the cost of the construction and land acquisition, along with maintenance over time.
The company also will look at people’s travel patterns to downtown Canton, the Hall of Fame and Akron-Canton Airport. Other issues expected to be studied include:
- Where SARTA can get the money to pay for the project.
- How many people would have to be hired to run the service.
- How the potential train could work with the current bus system and potential ridership.
- How passengers would get from stations on the rail line, which is east of Interstate 77 to the Hall of Fame and airport, which are west of the highway.
- What resources would be necessary to build a rail line into downtown Canton via Cherry Street and Third Street SW.
In the request for proposals, SARTA said it wanted the consultant to explore whether a hydrogen fuel cell could provide power for the light-rail trains. SARTA built a hydrogen pumping station at its Gateway headquarters in Canton in 2016 for its fuel-cell buses.
The request for proposal suggests a light-rail service would improve access between the Hall of Fame and downtown Canton; improve access between Akron-Canton Airport and the Hall of Fame; help ease the commute for employees of the Hall of Fame and other businesses; expand parking options for the Hall of Fame; reduce traffic congestion; and improve air quality.
WSP is also charged with coming up with a plan to involve the public, the Hall of Fame, Metro RTA, the city of Canton and the airport in discussions.
In its response, WSP’s Cleveland office said it has assembled a team of experts, mainly based in Northeast Ohio, including traffic engineers with extensive experience in public transit or rail and streetcar projects, with many of those being in Ohio.
WSP cited its experience on the Cincinnati Streetcar project in 2014; Metro RTA’s strategic plan in 2020; a transit study in Columbus; and feasibility studies or consulting for streetcar projects in Kansas City, New York, Salt Lake City and San Diego.
HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE TO BUILD?
Conrad has estimated that completing the first phase could take at least two years. A subsequent phase could include expanding service to Belden Village and the Akron-Canton Airport.
“The nice thing is the rail’s there. The infrastructure is there if we want to use it,” Conrad said.
He said Metro, which bought the rail line in 2000 when Conrad was Metro’s director of planning, has expressed interest in the light-rail concept. And SARTA and Metro are in discussions of how SARTA could use the rail line.
Canton Engineer Dan Moeglin is also involved in the planning. Conrad said he’s had conversations about the project with Michael Crawford, the CEO of the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment.
If funded, the project would proceed to a consulting firm performing preliminary engineering. Conrad hopes that the federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November would provide a grant.
The WSP feasibility study is expected to cost about $100,000, Conrad said. He said WSP was the only consultant to respond to SARTA’s request in November for proposals.
The Cleveland office of WSP was known as Parsons Brinkerhoffer, an engineering consulting and design firm that took the brand name of its parent company WSP in 2017. Parsons Brinkerhoffer had done feasibility studies for SARTA in the past, including analyzing proposed route changes.
Conrad said the Stark County Area Transportation Study last year declined SARTA’s request for funding to pay for the light-rail feasibility study. He said SARTA will fund the study out of its $4 million annual allocation in federal funding that can be used to fund operations and bus purchases.
In July, SARTA released a preliminary map, which showed a light-rail station on Fulton Road NW near Interstate 77 and the Hall of Fame, and a light-rail addition to SARTA’s Cornerstone Transit Center on Cherry Avenue SE.