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NIFI Small Group Discussion Outcomes

Outcomes from Small Group Deliberative Discussion Sessions Deliberative Discussion Session -- Overview

Using the NIFI “Deliberative Discussion” format, groups of 8-10 attendees aided by a trained moderator will discuss the Pros and Cons of 3 Suggested Options to address these issues. Moderators will ensure the group understands that none of the Suggested Options is ideal, that each has potential Benefits and Trade-Offs. They will also ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, and will lead the group to reach a consensus on the best option to pursue.

The purpose of the Deliberative Discussion session is to (a) hear all points of view by having all group members participate; and (b) to use the group’s discussion of potential Benefits and Trade-Offs of each option to develop a consensus within the group regarding the answers to the 5 questions that follow the Suggested Options below.

Suggested Options

Option 1

Continue the existing approaches to planning and funding of these infrastructures for the short term.

• Focus on repairing the existing infrastructure with the most realistic funding approaches. We may be able to plan on some small contribution from Federal and State funds, but will likely require a willingness to employ new approaches such as some toll system for a new Brent Spence bridge, and some increase in the gasoline tax rate to generate additional revenues.

• Continue planning for 2040 needs based on projections of future population and road use/congestion data from past history. This approach  expects continued small declines in population and small increases in road use/congestion across the region. Economic growth forecasts or objectives do not seem to be part of the planning process for 2040.

Benefits –  This approach provides the most realistic approach to obtaining the funding needed for short term repairs to our existing infrastructure. By focusing on investing only in the basic level of funding needed to support minimum projected transportation needs into 2040, there would be a minimum impact of the existing economy. This approach would also provide the funding needed to begin work on replacing the Brent Spence bridge on the fastest possible timing. This single element of infrastructure accounts for a major part of the economic activity transit in our region, and about 3%-4% of the total country’s GDP passes over this bridge annually.

Trade Offs – Limiting our focus to funding the repair of the existing infrastructure could require as much as 5 to perhaps 10 years to complete the repairs. However, planning for the future based on past trends, instead of looking to expand the infrastructure capability or to design and implement new transportation modes that might provide more effective and efficient support for substantial economic growth, could constrain the growth rate we can achieve and thus reduce the growth in the economy, jobs and the quality of life over the long term.

Option 2

Schedule and make repairs to the existing infrastructure, while also funding the development of long term infrastructure plans to best support the objective level of economic growth via new transportation modes and new sources of energy.

However, this option would make only small annual investments to implement the expanded infrastructure capabilities as economic growth rates increase are seen to increase, and are sustained at higher levels. The long term expanded capability plans, funding and spending would be increased gradually with experience.

Benefits – This option would yield a plan for the future while focusing first on implementing actions to take care of the existing repair and upgrade needs. It would minimize the financial impact on the existing economy, with investment increases following increases in economic growth, but not leading them.

Trade Offs – This option would likely delay the growth in the new infrastructure capability needed to support the objective level of economic growth. It would likely limit but not critically constrain economic growth, as only focusing on only the existing infrastructure would likely do. This option would likely delay the timing when we could provide the infrastructure needed to support objective levels of economic growth and quality of life to 2040.

Option 3

Provide the funding now to support high priority repairs to the existing infrastructure, develop the optimum plan to support long term economic growth, begin investing in the exploration and development of new transportation modes and new energy sources to supplement the current energy generation sources, and add the investments to support the implementation of the plans by 2040.

Benefits – This option would provide the infrastructures needed to support strong sustained economic growth as a State and regional priority. It would accelerate the exploration and development of new modes of transportation and energy generation, and provide the platform for long term economic growth and quality of life improvements.

Trade Offs – This approach likely has the largest financial impact on the existing economy. It would likely require some higher tax-generated revenues and the shifting of budget allocations to make infrastructure a greater priority at all government levels.

Discussion Process

Each session will begin with a reading of the Issue Statement and the 3 Suggested Options. The Moderator will then seek to engage each participant in a discussion of each of the 3 Options in turn, the Potential Benefits and the Trade-Offs to Consider with each option, and any Potential Actions that could or should be taken to implement and/or optimize this option.

Once the group feels good about the list of Potential Actions and Trade-Offs, then the moderator will ask the group to discuss the 6 questions below, with the goal of coming to a consensus on the Option and Actions that are most preferred, and any suggestions for minimizing the Trade-Offs involved. At the completion of the Discussion sessions, we will ask each group Moderator to summarize the consensus that each group reached on the Option and Actions, and any suggestions for minimizing the Trade-Offs involved.

Deliberative Discussion Session – Small Group Outcomes


1. What do you think is the most important improvement that is needed to the transportation infrastructure in Southwest Ohio?

There was an equal number of responders who choose “Repair bridges and roads” and “Improve job-related mass transit” and “Mass Transit between the counties of Southwest Ohio”. An interesting response from counties outside of the city of Cincinnati?

2. How do you think that improvements to the transportation infrastructure should be financed? Indicate first priority with “1”, next priority with “2”, or not a priority with “NA”:

A) _____ Federal and State Funds from Gasoline taxes; B) _____ Tolls paid by the travelers; C) _____ State wide tax increase, to support government bonds; D) _____ Other (specify)____________________________________________

"Tolls paid by Travelers" electronically (no toll booths, different rates for different vehicles and for local versus transiting vehicles) was the highest rated priority. "Government Funds from Gasoline Taxes" was the next highest rated response. "Government Bonds" and Public Private Partnerships received a smaller number of votes.

3. In terms of sources of energy, in which of the following areas should our region concentrate for the additional energy sources needed by 2040?  Indicate first priority with “1”, next priority with “2”, not a priority with “NA”:

A) _____ Coal production B) _____ Natural gas extraction C) _____ Nuclear plants D) _____ Solar and wind energy          E) _____ Hydrogen fuel cell generators F) _____ Other (specify)____________________________________________

"Solar/wind Energy" had the most number of “1 “ rankings, followed closely by "Hydrogen Fuel Cell Generators". "Hydrogen Fuel Cell Generators" had the most number of “2” rankings followed closely by "Solar/wind Energy". The other source receiving a substantial number of “1”, “2” or “3” rankings was "Natural Gas Extraction". "Nuclear Plants" and "Coal Production" each received only isolated ranking selections.

4. Should the focus of our regional transportation infrastructure be:                                                                              A) _____ A merged Cincinnati-Dayton region including Northern Kentucky and Eastern Indiana; B) _____ A merged Cincinnati-Dayton region only; C) _____ Separate and non-integrated system by country

By far, the most responses favored a "Merged Cincinnati-Dayton Regional" transportation infrastructure, "Including Northern Kentucky and Eastern Indiana" as part of the merged system. A small number favored a "Merged Cincinnati-Dayton region only". Only 1 person of 32 favored a "Separate and Non-Integrated System by County".

5. In terms of transportation infrastructure in the region by 2040, upon which of the following modes should we concentrate? Indicate first priority with “1”, next priority with “2”, not a priority with “NA”:                                      A) _____ Highways, roadways and bridges; B) _____ Public transportation within major urban areas; C) _____ Public transportation linking urban, suburbs and rural areas; D) _____ Rail transportation links; E) _____ Water borne transportation; F) _____ Bikeways, walkways, etc.; G) _____ Other (specify)___________________________________

By far, the mode of transportation favored for inclusion in a 2040 plan are “Highways, roadways and bridges”. The second most favored mode of transportation was “Public Transportation Linking Urban, Suburbs and Rural Areas”, and the third most favored was “Rail Transportation Links”. “Water Borne Transportation” and “Public Transportation Within Major Urban Areas” were the fourth and fifth most favored modes for focus.

6. Of the suggested options, which do you support?                                                                                              ______ Option 1 Repair existing infrastructure; ______ Option 2 Repair existing infrastructure while funding development of long-term plans to support growth; _____ Option 3 Fund high priority repairs to existing infrastructure while investing in development of new transportation modes and energy sources.

Option 3 was the preferred approach to addressing both short-term and long-term needs for transportation and energy infrastructure needs in our region. Nearly all of the 32 citizens participating in the Deliberative Discussion session would encourage regional leaders to BOTH “Fund High Priority Repairs” to existing infrastructure, while simultaneously “Investing in Development of new Transportation Modes and Energy Sources” in addressing additional infrastructure needs to support economic growth and quality of life by 2040.

Background on the Issues – Framing the Discussion

One of the 6 key issues is the state of the Energy and Transportation Infrastructure across the region. Most people understand that no region can build a world class economy on a second class infrastructure. The recent response to several city’s application for the Amazon Second HQ location underscores that importance. In the cases of both Cincinnati and Detroit, it appears that the absence of a robust regional transportation infrastructure was a key reason for Amazon dropping these cities from the list of finalists.

There are 2 key aspects of Energy and Transportation Infrastructure actions and planning that are important to supporting Economic Development, Job Growth and Quality of Life within the region. Those issues are:

1. The state of maintenance of the Energy and Transportation Infrastructure and how to fund the needed repairs to better support the existing economy.

2. The planning of the expansion and enhancement of the Energy and Transportation Infrastructure to support the future economic growth and quality of life expected by 2040.

Existing Infrastructure Issues -- Transportation

The Transportation Infrastructure assets in the region include the local roads, the interstate roads, all bridges, buses, bus stations, bus lines, urban rail lines, interstate rail connections, traffic control systems, street lighting, airports, parking facilities, river navigation systems, etc. The quality of our existing Transportation Infrastructure has been rated nationally and in the state of Ohio as a D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). It’s estimated that repairing the existing infrastructure nationally would require an investment of about $2 Trillion.

In that report for Ohio, the report estimates that 20,900 miles of public roads are in poor condition, and that driving on roads in need of repair in Ohio costs each driver $475 per year. In addition, the study rated 1,942 bridges as being structurally deficient. There’s not an estimate of those costs, but we know the Brent Spence bridge repair/replacement is estimated to be about $2.6 Billion alone. We don’t have a separate report on the Southwest Ohio infrastructure status in terms of either existing quality or repair costs.

For decades, we have neglected to make on-going repairs and upgrades to our roads, bridges, rail, air and public transportation systems. Our primary funding resources, the gasoline tax for roads and bridges, and tax revenues from State and Federal budgets, have not been adequate to meet the need. The gasoline tax revenues have declined with increased mileage, and the state and federal funding for infrastructure has been cut in an attempt to stimulate faster growth. Yet the need for repairs and upgrade has been increasing. There has not seemed to be the political attention or will to address the deterioration of this important support for sustained economic growth as a key priority.

There’s an old ad for regular car maintenance that said, “You can pay me a little now, or pay me more later.” This might accurately relate to the outcomes of putting off the needed investments in infrastructure repairs for other short term priorities. Should this neglect be allowed to continue, our region could find it difficult to attract and retain new investments, to support further economic growth or continue our existing quality of life. The risk to our economy and quality of life declining would seem to be quite substantial, if the poor quality of the existing infrastructure continues.

The challenge of funding the large investment needed to restore our infrastructure with the declining gas tax revenues and reductions in available government revenues is real, and unfortunately, will likely increase delays in taking action. Auto gasoline mileage rates are increasing and we can expect an increased percentage of electric cars and trucks in use over the next few years. It also seems likely that we should expect to rely LESS on Federal support to provide a significant amount of the funding needed, unless the recent tax cuts and other economic stimulus actions quickly deliver significant and sustained increase in economic growth, and there’s a national commitment to use additional Federal revenues for infrastructure investments.

So a realistic solution may require the majority of funding to come from State and local resources. These might involve an increase in the gasoline tax rate to provide sustained revenues; the use of new transportation bonds; the installation of tolls or other user fees; attracting private investments to supplement public spending; or it may involve a combination of multiple funding options.

Existing Infrastructure Issues -- Energy

Our existing energy infrastructure may be adequate in terms of generation capacity at present. However, the distribution of energy through an aging grid and the low level of security in our production and distribution systems, leave us vulnerable to breakdowns, brownouts and in our current environment, to attack from outside … attacks both physical and cyber in nature. In addition to energy, there are needs for repair and up grading likely are water, waste water or sewer, and flood control. 

According to the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card for 2017, drinking water repairs in Ohio are estimated require $12.2 billion, and wastewater repairs would requires an additional $14.58 billion. There are also 362 dams that are considered to be high-hazard potential. This total spending level would just repair and upgrade our existing systems to minimize the costs of future breakdowns.  Once again, the key issue is how to provide the funding needed to upgrade the areas of infrastructure that would have the greatest potential impact on the region’s economic growth and quality of life if neglected; while at the same time, how to fund serious planning for the expansion and enhancements needed to support long term economic growth.

Future Infrastructure Issues

For both Transportation and Energy Infrastructures, the key issue for the future relates to the target economic growth rate we want to achieve in the next 20-25 years – by the target date of 2040. We have taken major steps nationally which impact all states, to generate an economic growth rate between 3% and 3.5% each year, compared to the average growth rate of just under 2% annually since 2000. The implication of that target growth rate is that the economic activity level would double in 22-24 years. It’s probably unlikely that our current infrastructure in either transportation or energy , even if brought up to a satisfactory level with a $2 Trillion investment nationally, could support that level of new economic activity.

Without planning on some basis for that level of economic growth, the risk is that an inadequate infrastructure in both transportation and energy could limit our ability to reach our full economic growth potential. So one valuable outcome of today’s Summit might be to raise the awareness of the need to look at the target level of economic growth we hope to achieve as part of our infrastructure planning process for 2040. We may be at a point in our economic history today similar in some ways to the 15 year period that immediately followed the end of World War II. During that time, three different Administrations, representing both parties, focused our priorities on the investments needed to build the infrastructure needed to support significant new economic growth, before it had been realized.

Between 1948 and 1963, we designed and largely built the interstate highway system, which represented a new mode for transportation over what existed at the time, which was just 2 lane roads.  Instead of just building “more of the same”, we choose to invest in a new mode of transportation: the limited access, multi-lane, higher speed interstate highway system connecting major commercial centers across the country. We funded this investment by increasing the tax rate after the end of the war, on those citizens returning home after fighting and winning the war, to 91%, where it stayed until 1963, when it was reduced to 77%. We also invested in sending 4 million GI’s to college for free, creating a strong educated workforce. Neither did we borrow the money for these investments and pass on the debt to our generation.

Based on this history, it may be that investing now to not only repair our existing infrastructure, but also to add investments in new modes of transportation and new sources of energy, may provide the basis for decades of strong economic growth. Doing so without increasing the debt that we would pass on to future generations might represent a proven effective and responsible approach at this point in time. It is at minimum an approach worth discussing and considering.


To support the increased economic activity objective for 2040, we need a companion plan for the future Transportation Infrastructure to support those objectives. The key questions are:

(1)  Should we just increase the number of highway lanes, bridges and interchanges to handle the increased level of transportation support needed?

(2) Or should we look to invest in new transportation modes to facilitate the growth more effectively?

(3) Should we plan for an infrastructure designed to support a merged Cincinnati-Dayton economic region, or plan on separate and non-integrated transportation systems between the two main urban areas of Southwest Ohio?

Along with a well-thought out Transportation mode plan, we’ll need to develop a cost and funding plan to support implementing the plan over time. The funding plan will likely require as much innovative thinking and approaches as the transportation plan itself.


Currently, Ohio gets 51% of our electrical energy from coal, and 29% from natural gas, a total of 80%. There is 17% from nuclear which is unlikely to increase to meet higher energy needs by 2040. So the two questions for future planning are:

(1) How much do we need to increase our total energy production in order to support the hoped-for economic activity level that would be double what we have today by 2040?

(2) And what is the best energy mix for that new additional energy production we need?

Without any improvement in our energy efficiency levels, this might imply the need to double energy generation levels to support a doubling of economic activity by 2040. However, if we could increase energy efficiency and productivity in use by as much as 1/3 or 33.3% over the next 20 years, then instead of needing to double the energy production level, we would need to increase energy production levels by ”only” 50% by 2040. That would seem to be the best outcome that might be achieved in energy efficiency.

If that is a reasonable target to set to avoid chocking off economic growth, then how should we plan to supply it? Should we look for an additional 50% from the sources that supply 80% of our energy today, by increasing the production of coal and natural gas plants by 50% or more? Or should we be looking to new sources of energy to provide a significant portion of our increased energy needs by 2040?

These are some of the questions that the citizens involved in the Deliberative Discussion session will attempt to answer.

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