Pro-streetcar group begins lobbying effort to save project in Cincinnati

OKI plan: Uptown segment could cost $143.1M

CINCINNATI -- Supporters of Cincinnati’s streetcar system are planning a focused lobbying effort during the next two weeks to keep the project alive.

The group held a press conference Tuesday morning in Over-the-Rhine and may hold a Town Hall-style meeting later this week to rally support.

Using the motto, “Cincinnati: Let Us Grow,” the pro-streetcar group wants to get busy before Mayor-elect John Cranley and a new City Council take office Dec. 1.

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Cranley has pledged to cancel the $133 million project, stating the money could be put to better use elsewhere.

At least six of the nine members of the next City Council oppose the project or have qualms about it.

But streetcar supporters think two of those members – David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld – should be considered swing votes and may be persuaded into continuing the project.

WATCH IN THE MEDIA PLAYER ABOVE: Streetcar supporters rally, make their case

Mann said it’s inaccurate to consider him a swing vote.

“As I have said all along, I intend to look at the costs of stopping and of continuing (the streetcar) and then, fairly promptly, participate in a council decision about the future of the project,” Mann said.

“Based on everything I know and have previously reviewed, I continue to have deep reservations about the project,” he added. “Also, based on the feedback I received for months on the campaign trail, there is a great deal of opposition to the streetcar project - a clear majority I believe.”

Sittenfeld wasn’t immediately available for comment. On his Facebook page last week, Sittenfeld wrote he needed more information before making up his mind.

“Many people will agree with the decision that I and the rest of council ultimately make, and many others won't — but what I can promise is that mine will be a cool-headed, thoughtful, fact-based decision, which above all will be grounded in what makes the most financial sense given where things now are,” Sittenfeld said.

Ryan Messer, an Over-the-Rhine resident who is helping organize the effort, said the streetcar is needed to continue urban redevelopment.

“The streetcar is symbolic to many people of the progress we’ve made,” Messer wrote in an email to supporters. “It’s moving beyond the century-long joke of never finishing the subway.  The tracks represent us moving into a new era – that many other cities across this country have entered.

“These next 20 days may be the most important time for the future of Cincinnati,” Messer added.

Discussed since 2007, project construction began in August with crews relocating utilities and installing tracks. About $25 million has been spent on work so far.

When completed in 2016, the system would feature a 3.6-mile looped route with 18 stops.

Supporters think Cincinnati’s project would spark redevelopment of vacant or dilapidated parcels along its route, like similar projects have done in Portland, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash.

Opponents counter the project’s benefit is too uncertain and the estimated $3 million to $4 million in annual operating costs would strain the city’s budget.

Additionally, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. has said the streetcar project is only worthwhile if an extension to the uptown area – near the University of Cincinnati and several hospitals – eventually is built.

Although some streetcar backers have tried to garner more support by saying future extensions could be built to neighborhoods like Walnut Hills, Price Hill or Mount Adams, those segments probably are decades away from construction, if they happen at all.

The region’s long-range transportation plan indicates it would cost at least another $193.1 million just to extend the system to uptown and Queensgate in the urban core.

The plan, drafted by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), includes three streetcar segments in its long list of projects to be built by 2040.

The segments include:

  • An Uptown Connector, from Findlay Street in Over-the-Rhine to Vine Street in Corryville, at a cost of $43.1 million;
  • An Uptown Circulator, from Corryville to the Cincinnati Zoo area, at a cost of $100 million; and
  • An East/West Connector, from the Cincinnati Museum Center in Queensgate to the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino, at a cost of $50 million.

OKI’s plan, approved in 2012, lists the streetcar segments in an appendix of projects “identified as needed but not fiscally constrained, meaning funding for these projects is not expected to be available.”

The estimated costs are listed in “2012 dollars,” the plan stated, and would rise with inflation.

Jay Kincaid, who will be

Cranley’s chief of staff, said OKI’s list is reason enough to cancel the project now, before more money is spent.

“It is a big amount,” Kincaid said. “Given that the city manager and the streetcar project executive have said the streetcar won’t be successful unless it goes to uptown, the list just shows we can’t afford this.

“We know it won’t be successful because we don’t have money to do the second phase,” he added.

Pete Witte, a Price Hill business owner and streetcar opponent, said the project ignores Cincinnati’s most populated neighborhoods.

“How does Price Hill and Westwood, which are one-fifth of the city’s population, benefit from this?” Witte asked. “It just seems more of the same, just circulating people in certain areas.”

Witte said he isn’t opposed to mass transit, but wants it more neighborhood-oriented.

“I think many of us opposed to the streetcar are eager to have a broader conversation about transit,” he said. “I want to move people from where they live to jobs.”

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