Thursday, July 9, 2009

Riverfront Transit Center Boondoggle

Would you have voted to waste $42 million on this?
Why did a city with no passenger rail transportation spend $42 million on ANOTHER train station? Did elected representatives spend our money the way we wanted them to? Judging by comments to this Enquirer article, most voters never knew it was there, and certainly would not have approved it.

Is This "Progress" ?
City officials weren't required to consult taxpayers, but we still expect honesty and transparency. After getting shellacked at the polls by more than 2:1 on the previous billion-plus dollar light rail proposal, pro-rail planners took their efforts underground, resolving never to deal with voters again. When begging for state or federal money, they tout the "multimodal" or rail aspects of the Transit Center boondoggle; but around here they spin it as a bus station and parking lot. Even pro-rail junkies call it "Cincinnati's Other Abandoned Subway" in homage to the city's earlier boondoggle.

Today the Transit Center seems destined to rust out before the first train choo-choos through it. There is talk of using it for the 3C and Eastern Corridor projects; but neither has any funding yet, and as state and federal governments grow increasingly broke, the odds look slimmer every day. What's more, the Transit Center was so poorly planned that it's virtually impossible to get a train in or out of it without shutting down traffic in lower downtown. Instead, Amtrak is eyeing the Montgomery Inn Boathouse to become yet another train station.

So what's next for the Transit Center boondoggle? Former Cincinnati Mayor, and seven-term Democrat Congressman Tom Luken has asked the Ohio Inspector General to investigate it for fraud. Meanwhile Hamilton County also received a $5.5 million loan to connect parking garages at The Banks to the monstrous cavern. Looks like the boondoggle continues.

What You Can Do About It
This November, Cincinnatians will have an opportunity to vote on an anti-boondoggle charter amendment. Here's what you will see on the ballot:
"The City, and its various Boards and Commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."
It doesn't block the city from doing a streetcar or any other rail transit. It merely requires officials to get voter's approval before putting us on the hook for the big-ticket aspects of a rail project.

City administrations past and present have saddled us with a subway boondoggle, a Union Terminal boondoggle, a Riverfront Transit Center boondoggle, and now a streetcar boondoggle. A dismal track record spanning nearly a century merits this extra scrutiny.


  1. I would definitely have voted for it. Why the $42 million number when you just had Gloyd on 700 WLW saying it was $57 million? Your opponents cite $23 million as the correct number. I'm proud to see Cincinnati actually planning ahead. Isn't that how you guys got your wealth, planning for the future? $23 million seems a small price to provide necessary infrastructure for our $1 billion riverfront to be a successful urban mixed-use district , which by the way the voters approved and since COAST supports voter choice I'm sure you're satisfied to see the will of the people being carried out.

  2. UCstudent,
    ODOT says they spent $47 million on it, Cincinnati says it was $23 million. We've seen a $57 million check from ODOT to Cincinnati, but part of that was for the highway. Since we can't get a straight answer from government, we elected to cite the figure used by a peer-reviewed industry journal. The point is this: Government is deliberately lying to us about rail projects, doing them behind our backs, and taxpayers are amending the Charter to fix that.

    Do you really think it's "planning ahead" to build a train station that you can't get any trains into or out of?!?

    When did voters approve any of this?

  3. I would have definitely voted for it too. We have to diversify our transit options for the future. Light rail, highspeed rail and inner city rail are going to be vital for the future as gas prices continue to rise and we shift away from a car only society.
    I'm excited that Cincinnati is ready for regional light rail and even more excited about the streetcars.

  4. "ODOT says they spent $47 million"

    So you do concede that part of the $47 million would exist with or without the riverfront transit center, i.e. had the area under second street been filled with dirt it still would have cost the tax payers millions. I'd rather spend the extra money for the utility of an internodal transit facility.

    "Do you really think it's "planning ahead" to build a train station that you can't get any trains into or out of?!? "

    That is highly speculative, and has yet to be substantiated. Furthermore, the transit center is not only for rails. It is an internodal transit facility designed to accommodate automobiles, buses, and perhaps rail. Even if no rail plan passes, the transit center will be an essential component to The Banks's success.

    "When did voters approve any of this?"

    I do believe we voted to raise the sales tax to build the two massive stadiums as early 1996.

  5. The transit center was built on reclaimed space from the Fort Washington Way reconstruction. The city's options were to either fill in this space with dirt, or build spend $23 million to preserve this prime location for future rail or bus service. It's going to save the city a lot of money in the long run if Eastern Corridor rail or a light rail system ends up taking advantage of the transit center.

    The $23 million price tag is the true cost of the transit center itself, without the cost of 2nd Street, which is built on top of the center. 2nd Street would have been built with or without the Center, so it's not fair to include it in the Transit Center's price tag.

  6. Not to mention, the transit center was included in the tax initiative that also built the stadiums and the National Underground Railroad Freedom in contrast to your claim COAST, the tax payers DID have a vote and they voted to "waste" 23 millions dollars. Also, per that vote the right of way is secured to place rails should a plan ever be put forward, so it DOES NOT got to "nowhere."

    Also, maybe you should check with the Cincinnati Enquirer or at least give credit to them when you borrow their graphic.

  7. The Transit Center boondoggle was NEVER a part of the stadium deal. Neither was The Banks, for that matter. This article should set you straight. And, no, that's not the Enquirer's graphic; it's a public record paid for with our tax dollars.

    Foul cried on stadium tax use
    County officials: Money pot limited
    Cincinnati Enquirer
    by Dan Klepal

    Dusty Rhodes favored the increased sales tax to build new baseball and football stadiums when it was put before voters in 1996.

    Now the Hamilton County auditor is throwing a flag for piling on.

    If use of the sales tax is expanded to pay for other things, Mr. Rhodes said, the property tax rollback that was promised to garner support for the sales tax is vulnerable.

    Massive riverfront development, parking garages and expansion of the convention center or Fort Washington Way weren't part of the original deal.

    Mr. Rhodes said there just isn't enough money to go around.

    Although the county hasn't agreed to sales tax funds going toward the convention center or the proposed Banks development along the riverfront, there are discussions and studies under way.

    "What we're seeing in these numbers is that the money is doing a heck of a lot more than stadiums," Mr. Rhodes said. "And I just wonder how much more will go into this.

    "All of these visions are wonderful things, but it's time the visionaries meet the taxpayers. The sales tax can't be expanded to cover the entire universe."

    Here's how much money has come and gone so far:

    Paul Brown Stadium:

    More than $251.2 million has been spent, including $96 million for construction, $70 million for land, $22 million in trade contracts, $19 million for architecture and design, and $18 million for interest on bonds.

    Reds baseball stadium:

    More than $20 million has been generated from sales tax distributions, with $4.3 million spent. The largest expenses have been $2.5 million for architecture and design, and $620,000 for insurance.

    Fort Washington Way:

    More than $33.8 million has been collected from sales tax distributions, the city's sanitary sewer lines, and county road and bridge funds for public improvements. Of that, $10.3 million has been spent, $10 million on Fort Washington Way.


    The sales tax has generated $10.5 million with $126,000 spent, mainly for environmental consulting and legal fees.

    The county planned a conservative 2 percent economic growth rate for the bonds it sold to pay for Paul Brown Stadium. It is forecasting a 3 percent growth rate when it sells the bonds for the Reds ballpark.

    A funding proposal floated for the Banks development would raise the necessary growth rate to 3.56 percent.

    Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin agrees the county can't afford it all.

    Mr. Dowlin said each of the commissioners has been approached privately regarding the sales tax being used for expanding the convention center. The county's legal and financial advisers are studying the feasibility of using sales tax to help along the Banks development.

    He's not in favor or any of it.

    "We are in an unparalleled extension of good times, and our savings rate as a nation is a negative number," Mr. Dowlin said. "At some point, even if the economy doesn't slow down, people will have to slow down spending."

    Tim Mara said he saw it coming.

    An attorney who headed the fight against the increased sales tax, Mr. Mara said some officials see the sales tax as an endless supply of money.

    "It's been my fear all along," Mr. Mara said. "The promise to rescind the tax means nothing if they keep adding projects to it. All the taxpayers ever said is, 'Let's stop the Bengals from leaving town.'

    "They didn't expect a riverfront development project."

  8. Why nothing from COAST about the Drake Levy???

  9. See, we can trust our elected officials to do the right thing on our behalf. No need for voter oversight.

  10. Not sure there was a single fact in that glorified editorial you posted. I've got an enquirer excerpt for you though:

    "Yet the Ohio Elections Commission in June found Stephan Louis' Alternatives for Light Rail Transit guilty of a false statement in a television ad during last fall's campaign." - Enquirer 10/8/2003

    So it seems your earlier comment,
    "The point is this: Government is deliberately lying to us about rail projects, doing them behind our backs, and taxpayers are amending the Charter to fix that", is the pot calling the kettle black.

  11. We all know what COAST is against (transportation choices, development within our city center, gay rights, red light cameras and increased jail capacity to name a few)...but what we don't know is what COAST is actually for.

    I'm talking something definitive here and not the same old rhetoric of "efficient government" "voter choice" or whatever. I want specifics.

  12. Randy, were you opposing the referendum process when it was being used promote gay rights? Campaign finance reform?

    Or are you only against it when it's used by blacks and conservatives?

  13. I'm opposed to this proliferation of referendum items that are going in and directly changing our City Charter. I don't care who is using this process, but rather I care what it is trying to carry out...and in this case it is a coalition of special interest groups trying to prevent Cincinnati from creating a diversified transit network.

    I have a long track record with this project and you can see my consistent opposition to those who are trying to stop Cincinnati from introducing rail transit to its citizens.

  14. So basically you're against the petition process, except when you're for it.

  15. My history on this has been consistent from the beginning. I am opposed to referendum items that would change our city's charter for a particular issue such as this, or red light cameras for that matter. Petitioning your government is fine, but government by referendum is an inefficient and counter-productive way to managing local government. Are you opposed to efficient government? Are you opposed to the representative democracy we have in this country? What is it you're trying to push, what is your position? Please clarify for us Anonymous.

  16. The worst part about the transit center is that Cincinnati planned for the future, but C.O.A.S.T.'s charter amendment would prevent it from being utilized.


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