The Cincinnati Streetcar project is bad for all kinds of reasons: It's impractical, serving no transportation need, it is expensive, far more expensive than any benefit obtained, and, most importantly, Cincinnati cannot afford it, especially right now.
Further, what will inevitably unfold over the coming months is that Cincinnati politicians, bureaucrats and taxpayers will be overwhelmed with predicted and unpredicted cost overruns from the Streetcar project.
Because our local politicians and bureaucrats are committed to proceeding with this project despite all practical reality -- and are willing to saddle taxpayers with the adverse consequences of those decisions -- the role of the "fourth estate," the media, in exposing their misdeeds and holding them accountable is utterly critical.
Thus, COAST has been appreciative of the willingness of Lucy May and Dan Monk at the Cincinnati Business Courier to expose the failings in Streetcar planning, despite a secretive City Hall that refuses to address the problems head on.
As background, City planners to date have willfully ignored the costs of utility relocation in their streetcar budgeting. How can they do that, when someone has to pay these costs? City planners apparently either (a) intend to start construction and spring the "surprise" cost overruns on taxpayers when it is "too late" to say "no" or (b) have Duke Energy, MSD, Water Works, Cincinnati Bell and others pass the costs onto ratepayers, a hidden Streetcar tax hike.
Well, after the Cincinnati Business Courier exposed this flaw in Streetcar planning this summer, County Commissioner Chris Monzel introduced a motion to prevent spending MSD funds on relocating utilities for the Streetcar project (Commissioners control the MSD budget, although the City runs MSD day-to-day). The resolution passed unanimously.
This action by Commissioners basically check-mated Mayor Mallory's carefully laid plans, as no rational planner would build the Streetcar on top of existing sewer lines, and the City can't afford to move then without shifting the costs to MSD ratepayers.
Well, City planning went from bad to worse, with the entirely irresponsible decision to actually do that -- build the Streetcar on top of sewer lines, many of them more than 120 years old and constructed of brick.
Then MSD engineers did a "what if" study -- what if MSD did pay the cost of utility relocation to accommodate the Streetcar? Lo and behold, the cost came in at $7.9 million, 31% higher than the previous $6 million estimate and 260% above the $3 million the City is willing to put towards the cost.
And that's just the MSD portion of the utility relocation cost equation.
Duke Energy says the cost just for their lines will range from $9 to $15 million more than the City has budgeted, Cincinnati Bell's numbers range between a $3 and $8 million overrun, and the folks at Water Works (controlled entirely by the City) have already agreed to pass onto ratepayers $6 million in cost overruns. So far, Duke Energy has joined with MSD in saying "over our dead body," in terms of willingly passing these expenses on to ratepayers.
Thus, the utility relocation cost component of the project is turning into a $20 million+ disaster for the City's taxpayers, and construction has not even started. It is also an engineering catastrophe of significant importance that the City has planned.
The Cincinnati Business Courier has been on top of all of these developments that have mostly been ignored by the rest of Cincinnati media. (WXIX recently covered a portion of this developing story as well.)
Cincinnati taxpayers and utility ratepayers throughout the region stay tuned for developments in this saga.