Cincinnati Mayor Offers Last-Minute Plan to Save the Streetcar

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on the idea of killing the city’s under-construction streetcar, announced today he will allow the project to continue if operating costs can be funded through fares, advertising and private donations for the first 30 years.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said he would allow the city's streetcar project to continue, if private funds to operate it could be found. Image: ##http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20131212/NEWS/312120035/Cranley-making-major-streetcar-announcement-today&nocache=1## Cincinnati Enquirer##

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said this morning he would allow the city’s streetcar project to continue, if private funds to operate it could be guaranteed. Image: Cincinnati Enquirer

That’s the report from the Cincinnati Business Courier following the mayor’s big announcement this morning. Cranley told local press that some major city institutions, including corporations and foundations, had expressed a willingness to raise the amount needed to operate the four-mile streetcar — whatever portion of the estimated $4.5 million in annual costs are left uncovered by the farebox and ads.

The city of Cincinnati is under a deadline from the federal government to restart construction or lose $45 million in federal funding. Construction, which is well underway, was “paused” last week by the City Council, following the swearing in of a roster of new members.

The Federal Transit Administration had given the city until next Thursday to provide assurances the project would continue, or else the agency would revoke the $40 million in unspent money from the federal grant — and pursue collections on the millions already spent.

The deal would allow Cranley to save face while continuing a project he vowed to kill over fiscal concerns. And it would allow the city to avoid the embarrassment and waste of abandoning yet another rail project before completion.

Cranley said he wants streetcar supporters to produce a legally binding agreement pledging that the operating costs would be provided by private sources. That agreement would need to be approved by the City Council before the federal deadline next week to avoid a breach of contract.

At least one member of the City Council, Kevin Flynn, also indicated he would support restarting the project.

The Business Courier reports that the city’s largest foundation, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, has been leading the charge to secure the needed funds. The foundation’s vice president Eric Avner told Cincinnati CityBeat that Cranley’s announcement was “an olive branch” to streetcar supporters. Avner said he’s “very, very confident” the private money to continue the project can be located.

Just to be on the safe side, streetcar supporters are continuing to gather signatures on a petition to have the issue placed on the ballot.

Eric Douglas told Streetsblog he’s heartened that Cranley and Council Member Flynn are backing away from the plan to throw away money that’s already been spent.

“But asking donors to fund 30 years of operations is unprecedented for any project,” he noted. “Seems like the Mayor moving the goal posts yet again for this project. But we’ll see.”

On Twitter, some streetcar supporters pointed out the double standard being applied by Cranley.

“Mayor Cranley, I’m also willing to support your multi-million dollar road expansion projects if the costs are privately funded and guaranteed,” wrote streetcar supporter Chris Nascimento.