Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cincinnati Requests $12.6 Million of Federal Stimulus Package For Trolley

Boondoggle railroaded on voters

Ignoring the WeDemandAVote.Com coalition’s petition drive to force a public vote on Council plan for a $400 million trolley system serving only three neighborhoods, Mayor Mark Mallory in January asked its Congressional delegation to support inclusion in the federal stimulus bill of $12.6 million for the nascent trolley plan. A copy of the City’s request is here.

The request is part of an overall request by the City of nearly $333 million in Stimulus funds. Read the entire request here. COAST supposes we should be happy there is no request for funds for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in there.

Cincinnati City Council first approved the trolley plan in April of last year. The Council resolution called for raising $32 million of the costs for the plan from private sources and charged the City Manager with doing the private fundraising. The April resolution called for the City Manager to report to Council quarterly on his fundraising results. To date, the City Manager has never issued such a report and no private funds have been donated.

The City did, however, extract $3 million from Duke Energy as part of a complex kick-back deal in which the City consented to a higher rate increase than Duke requested, and sold them 20,000 city-owned streetlights for $200 a piece. Cincinnati previously maintained the lights themselves to save money under a recommendation by the Smale Commission. The city sellout abandons that strategy to raise some quick cash.

The WeDemandAVote.Com coalition, which has placed three issues on the ballot in the past two years, has committed in 2009 to placing an issue on the ballot preventing the expenditure of major funds by the City for passenger rail transportation without first receiving the approval of voters. Call Mark Miller at 513-617-2263 for your copy of the petition and instruction sheet, or e-mail Treasurer@GoCOAST.Org.


  1. Might I make a suggestion to you, COAST? If you are going to complain about a $185 million investment in the city's Streetcar system, why not complain about more expensive transit projects as well?

    For example, we are spending $625 million on the "Mill Creek Expressway" project, which will widen I-75 between the Western Hills Viaduct and Paddock Road. COAST needs to demand this this project be put to a public vote as well! There is a public meeting on the Mill Creek Expressway project on February 10 at the St. Bernard Municipal Building. I expect COAST to be there.

  2. Travis, you keep complaining about transportation projects. So when are you going to get the signatures to place them on the ballot, just like COAST is doing?

  3. Sorry, I'm just trying to figure out why COAST is up in arms over the Streetcar but ignores far-more-expensive highway projects.

  4. Answer the question at the heart of the issue then. Why is COAST specifically concerned with $185 million for the proposed streetcar system (only a portion of which is public dollars) and not concerned with $625 million for a highway project that will bring a level D highway to a level D highway when it's all said and done?

    Seems like COAST should be campaigning against the use of $675 million of public dollars going towards a project that will maintain a functionally deficient system. No vote or public comment has been had on this spending. At least there has been public discussion about the streetcar.

  5. Travis,
    Because highways are a necessity to society at large, and the costs are paid primarily by the beneficiaries of it.

    Streetcars are an optional nicety for a select few, and for the proposed system, most of the cost will be borne by those who have no use for it.

  6. Streetcars are a necessary part of a rail transit network. When talking about roads it would be unreasonable to suggest that interstates alone could serve all of our needs. When talking rail, interstates are the equivalent to regional rail (Amtrak). We have no rail equivalents to the arterials or collectors that are integral parts of the road network.

    Their equivalents would be light rail and streetcars. Now if you think those aren't necessary, then what you're really arguing against isn't streetcars specifically, but the need for rail in general. That argument is wrong and I think the many reports that have come out about our over-crowded highways support that. And if you think widening roads is the solution, think again.

    Many reports have offered imperical evidence that shows widened roads actually increase traffic volume and do little to mitigate congestion concerns. If you'd like I can provide some of these reports for you.

  7. Randy,
    Which dollars aren't the public ones?

    Also see Travis' comment above for the info on the public meeting.

    I understand your preference for rail over car/truck transportation, but the overwhelming public demand is for the latter. There's definitely a place in our society for rail, but it has to earn its keep.

  8. It's hard for rail to "earn its keep" when organizations like COAST fight against rail but don't see any problems with highway spending. If citizens had to vote on highway spending projects, see how much they actually cost, and realize that widening roads does not actually decrease congestion or shorten travel time, I think it would be a little different.

  9. Well as of right now, nothing has been spent. But of the $185 million $61 million would come from public resources unless something changes and money is given to Cincinnati in the stimulus package.

    As for a preference for a particular mode of transportation - I have none. What I believe in is free choice and the free market. Right now our transportation money is allocated in a monopoly system. There is no competition. I want people to have the choice between a car, walking, bicycling, or taking transit. Unfortunately, that choice is not present for the vast majority of Americans. Are you opposed to this choice?

  10. Randy,
    Freedom is a wonderful thing. COAST is always for that.

    Presently travelers have the choice to walk, bike or drive due to public funding of our paved infrastructure. In November, Voters will have the opportunity to choose whether to allow the city to add a streetcar to the list of alternantives. It's their money, so it's their choice.

  11. Mark,

    Many of our communities lack sidewalks and very few boast bike lanes on the roads themselves. To say these are adequate enough would be like saying a dirt road will do just fine for vehicular traffic.

  12. Let me first start by saying I am a conserative and do not like wasting tax dollars, but the streetcar is essential to the entire tri-state area. I first want to ask a few questions of COAST.
    1)The streetcar (and it is a streetcar not a trolley there is a big difference) plans show that the streetcar will spur about 1.8 billion in development. How does COAST plan to develop the area and create that kind of development?
    2)Why is the same focus not on the Banks projects? How much tax dollars is being spent there? Will It spur the same 9:1 ROI?
    3)Since when did Chris Smitherman become the spokesman for COAST?

  13. Anonymous Conservative,
    I think the streetcar, if applied properly, could give a little boost to Downtown & OTR. But the rest of the tri-state is structured around autos, and won't have a use for it, nor receive much benefit from it.

    You're going to have to educate me on the difference between streetcars and trolleys. I want to use correct terminology, but every place I've looked it up says they're just different words for the same thing.

    1. Every publicly funded capital project in the last 25 years has PROMISED huge economic impacts. If their projections were even halfway fulfilled, this town would be drowning in dollars right now.

    Example: NURFC cost $110 million to build, half of which was public money. They promised operations would be funded by attendance, and UC projected economic impact of $40 million a year and 459 new jobs. Reality never came close. NURFC attendance generates $750,000, which doesn’t even cover executive salaries, much less other expenses. They continue to require public subsidies just to keep the doors open. Their net economic impact on the region has been negative.

    To get more development, the City needs to fix the 3 things that drive away developers; overtaxation, overregulation, and crime perception. Nobody builds in West Chester because they like the drive; they see it as cheaper, safer and less hassle. The City already enjoys favorable location; make us competitive on the other 3, and you won’t have to “create” development, it’ll happen naturally.

    2. The Banks is another good example of why governments make lousy developers. It’s the single most valuable piece of real estate within 100 miles, but it’s taken 10 years to get going, and is actually costing the City and County general fund dollars to develop, even after TIF and Federal/State grants. Nearby on both sides of the river, private developers are doing similar projects which cover ALL their costs out of resulting sales and leases, and generate a HEALTHY PROFIT as well. It’s hard to say how many tax dollars were spent on The Banks because much of it is being cloaked under pre-existing infrastructure accounts, and Port Authority involvement further clouds the money trail.

    3. Mr. Smitherman speaks for the NAACP, who along with COAST and several others, are partners in the WeDemandAVote.Com coalition. We all share the same view that the streetcar is not a wise investment in this economy, that it costs everybody while benefiting only a few, that the cost is well beyond the benefits promised, and that it will not likely deliver the benefits it promises.

  14. Thank your for your response. First the difference between a streetcar and a trolley is rubber wheels. A streetcar has rails in the ground. It will allow developers/investors to realize that the route will not change or move. A trolley line can move within a day, not a real commitment to the area.

    I don't believe that it is fair to compare the streetcar to the Freedom Center. Not even close!! The Freedom Center was an experiement pushed down our throat by white guilt liberals. The streetcar has been very successful in cities throughout the country. Portland, which has the Pearl District similar to OTR, they are on their eighth line connector to the original streetcar line. Little Rock, Ark. also has a line. Many other cities are planning to have streetcars including Cleveland and Columbus. Once again Cincinnati will be behind the other competing cities in the region. Being downtown all I hear from realtors is that the young talent that comes to Cincinnati to work for our Fortune 500 companies leave because a lack of mass transit. The country is going away from the car. Young talented people do not want to own cars any longer!! Bottom line this has worked in other cities.

    Once the first line is successful the SC will branch out to other neighborhoods and affect more people dirctly. I am a developer in Over the Rhine. I Know the challenges of developing in the city and OTR. The last thing I want to do is subsidize my project with city red tape money, But due to the deteriation of the buildings and the neighborhood there is no other way to make the projects feasible without subsidy money. The streetcar makes this happen.

    The streetcar will actually be cheaper than the current city plan to subsidize every unit rehabbed in the city. Lets use as an example 3CDC. They have been receiving subsidies in the amount of about 100k per unit. There are 500 vacant buildings in OTR. If we use simple math and sssume 10 units per building that is 500m. What is cheaper 185m or 500m?? I gurantee that plan will not have the same development impact as the streetcar would.

    The region has used OTR for its dumping ground with 65 social agencies within three blocks receiving 1 billion in subsidy moneies annually. Why no uproar from COAST about those agencies? Or even 3CDC? Without OTR, recently named on the 11 most endangered neighborhoods in the country, we lose our city's inner core and character and eventually the entire city. Without the city of Cincinnati there is no need for West Chester. West Chester is suburb of Cincinnati not the other way around. We should all embrace the potential of the streetcar to save the city and our region.

  15. A trolley may mean a streetcar, or it may mean a trolley bus as in Dayton. The word comes from the "troller" on the overhead electrical wire. By extension it often means a diesel bus that looks like an old-time streetcar.

    As Michael Moore of the city told me, yes, the streetcar represents a commitment by the city to OTR. That is as planned, so that if the streetcar fails (a possibility that they admit), then the city would continue ever more money into OTR until success rather than admit failure.

    I say that if it fails (as it almost certainly will), the well will be poisoned for decades for light-rail or any sensible mass transit project other than busses. It would be like trying to get a professional basketball team here after the debacle of the Bengals' stadium.

  16. It is really too bad that the MetroMoves plan (which would have been a much better expense for sales tax than the jail would have been) was smeared so much.

    I read in this thread earlier the claim that much of the tri-state area was designed around autos. This is a patently false claim. In fact, a considerable amount of the communities within eastern Hamilton County were built-up around Streetcars, Canals, and Commuter Rail. This includes cities at the Butler/Warren border such as Springdale, Sharonville, and Forest Park. Many of these communities are now surrounded by some car-centric housing developments, however much of the population still resides on street grids and planning plots originally laid out along streetcar and commuter rail routes.

  17. Good discussion here. Much more intelligent and well-reasoned than the Beacon's website.

    I was just wondereing where your figure for $400 million came from? Last I heard, less than $200 million was required to connect the Banks to the Zoo, and about $120 million just for the Phase I portion.

  18. ^ Everybody's figures are just guesses at this point. The city estimate of $120 million or $200 million is just the capital cost to construct the project. That's what they need immediately in order to begin, so those are the figures they quote.

    However there are lingering doubts about whether that's enough to overcome the technical challenges of climbing the hill to Uptown. And we rarely, if ever, have public projects that come in under budget. Plus, the operating and maintenance costs over the life of the streetcar are actually greater than the first cost.

    COAST's point is that voters need to examine this as a long term financial commitment of at least $400 million, and decide whether the City as a whole will get that level of value in return.

  19. $400 million is an extreme exaggeration of the figures presented in the feasibility study. These figures are much more than mere "guesses." They represent legitimate cost projections that account for inflation. In fact these numbers are probably higher than what the project will actually cost as the feasibility study identified this as a high projection.

  20. If I remember right, the city's figures took inflation into account, and from what I've heard lately, the project would likely come in under the projection because construction materials have declined in cost. If you admit the $400 million figure is a guess, you may want to include a statement in your article that the figure is your own estimation. It seems to be presented as fact.

  21. I've got a question for COAST. When is it OK to spend tax dollars on economic development tools ? I guess my real question is this. How do you pick the projects to go after? Why the Streetcar and not the banks projects?Why the streetcar and not the subsidies thrown around at every residential/commercial housing project in the city?What is COAST's analysis on the projected ROI for the Banks Projects compared to the streetcar? Is it because it is an easy target? It goes through OTR and Downtown Cincinnati? Public perception of OTR would be easy for COAST to use to further it's no tax ineciatives? I just don't understand how you could pick this project out of all the others. This project to me makes sense.I hope COAST has done its homework on this.
    Spending tax dollars is a huge responsibilty. I just wish every project had the same scrutiny as this one.What will COASTS economic development plan be when Columbus and Dayton get streetcars and we don't? Once again Cincinnati behind other cities in the region. Thanks COAST!!

  22. Quick question for COAST. How do you pick the projects to go after? There is no protest over the banks. No protest over The 3CDC projects which subsidies are costing the taxpayers more than the streetcar ever could? Is it because it is an easy target? It will help push the agenda of COAST? An agenda which I support 100%. WE need a watchdog for wasteful spending. But there has to be a time when tax dollars make sense to invest in an economic tool. The streetcar is that tool. It will provide a boost to the OTR and the downtown area that subsidies on a case by case basis could never do. I have been struggeling to develop in OTR for years and I see this as the only solution. This will make it so I will not need to go to the city with my hands out. It will make my projects feasible without subsidies. A downtown's developers dream!
    Coast's argument is the SC impacts only a few people. Two responses 1) The inner core of our city has got to revive for us to be a competing city in this region mas-transit is a key to that. 2)The streetcar is designed to reach out into other neighborhoods. Portland is on its eighth connector.
    I just wish as much scrutiny was put on every project where tax dollars are being spent. Not just one that effects downtown and OTR. It COAST has a better solution to develop downtown and OTR Lets here it!!

  23. Rest assured that ALL of the money will come from tax payers. There may be token amounts offered by some of the businesses along the route but it will pale in comparison to the amount OWED by the tax payers for generations. The stimulus money source is tax payer dollars.

    Whenever a business plans their budget using their money they always consider the benefits to their bottom line profits. I propose that we do the same thing here for the benefit of the taxpayer--- lets determine how much our taxes will be reduced by voting for spending like this. I voted for the stadium---my taxes didn't go down. I have voted for many projects and for some reason I don't seem to benefit---why is that? Maybe the cost should be more directly be carried by the beneficiaries, i.e. the businesses. Of course just like the stadiumS, the businesses( the sport teams) much prefer that some one else bears the cost for them.


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