Construction Continues on Cincy Streetcar, Mayor-Elect Still Wants It Stopped

Two days after Cincinnati voters elected anti-streetcar candidate John Cranley mayor, construction continues on the city’s partially-built streetcar system.

Construction continued today on the Cincinnati Streetcar, despite the mayor-elect’s promise to kill the project. Image: ##http://www.wlwt.com/news/local-news/cincinnati/one-business-owner-doesnt-want-to-see-streetcar-canceled/-/13549970/22843546/-/s94hhg/-/index.html## WLWT##

Cranley called on the City Council to halt construction on the project Wednesday. A majority of the current council favors the streetcar, but that will change in a few weeks, when Cranley and the new council members are sworn in.

“They should immediately (stop it) and they should not be ordering these cars to be built three weeks before my swearing-in. I mean, seriously, look at who got elected yesterday,” he told WLWT.

“I don’t, I don’t, I don’t relish stopping the streetcar. I don’t say, ‘Yay, yay, yay, we get to stop the streetcar.’ The fact is, it’s just not worth the money,” he said.

The city has already spent $23 million on the streetcar and another $94 million is tied up in contracts on the $148 million project. Meanwhile, the federal government has indicated that its $45 million contribution cannot be used for other local projects, but Cranley plans to ask the feds to use it on an interchange anyway. If the project is canceled, there’s also the question of whether the city would face years of costly litigation from contractors, like the lawsuits Wisconsin is facing right now for abandoning its commitment to high-speed rail.

Canceling the streetcar could actually cost more than completing it. Cranley told the Enquirer if that turned out to be the case, he would reconsider his position.

“This is completely unprecedented,” John Deatrick, the city’s streetcar project executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, but we just don’t know at what cost yet.”

Members of the city’s business community complained about the abrupt change of course yesterday. Vik Silberberg, owner of Zula restaurant in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, told WLWT it’d be a shame to see the project stopped when so much energy was building around its construction.

“It was so exciting because everything what was talked about for so long is suddenly becoming reality and you’re watching it and you’re witnessing history,” Silberberg said. The streetcar project, as we reported last week, has spurred a wave of new private development along the corridor.

Meanwhile, streetcar supporters are attempting to stop Cranley in his tracks. There has been talk of a lawsuit or a referendum to continue construction, the Enquirer reports. Streetcar advocates have been convening supporters at the Facebook group Save the Streetcar. One member tried to explain why Cincinnati, a city that twice voted to continue the streetcar project, suddenly seems to have had a change of heart:

Our election was designed by mayor-elect Cranley to divide our city by pitting the inner suburbs against downtown. By doing so he created a great deal of jealousy and resentment among our citizens, and caused damage that won’t be repaired for years.

His policy of cancelling the streetcar, and reprogramming money for more highways and interchanges, will only cause more flight, while the national trend shows people want to move back into the urban core so they can enjoy walkable lifestyles.

City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld, a streetcar opponent, indicated to the Wall Street Journal that he might be convinced to let the project proceed. There are “probably a hundred” questions that need to be answered, he said, before the council can make an informed decision about halting the project.

  • Anonymous

    The project cost is $148 million for what has been described as 3.6 route miles. In reality, it is more like 1.5 route miles due to the way the streetcar would loop around. That works out to more than $90 million per mile.

  • Mike B

    Although, the single-track and double-track miles cost isn’t all too different. It’s about 20%-25% more to build embedded double track since the same amount of poles, substation, utility relocation, vaults, conduit, etc are needed.

  • Whether it was a worthwhile investment or not (I don’t know nearly enough to comment on that), the fact is that if they’re already in $23 million and have another $94 million in contractual obligations, They’ll also lose $45 million from the feds (there’s zero chance they’ll reassign it to a highway project, or anything else for that matter), so tearing it out now would be no different than throwing away $150 million for exactly zero benefit and a whole lot of wasted time and effort

  • It is assumed that the City will win its lawsuit against Duke Energy for the relocation of its utilities along the line. Once that verdict is reached the project cost drops to $132 million.

    If Cranley proceeds with cancelling the project, it would almost certainly mean that Duke Energy would be entitled for 100% of those costs. It would also probably mean that all the other cost-sharing agreements for utility relocations along the line may also be subject to repayment to those utility providers.

    What Cranley is proposing is not only unprecedented, as the project manager indicated, it is risky and unnecessarily divisive.

    Something to consider is that 32,716 Cincinnatians voted for John Cranley on Tuesday. This compares with 37,464 Cincinnatians who voted in favor of the streetcar project on Issue 48 and 40,288 Cincinnatians who voted in favor of the streetcar project on Issue 9. Tuesday’s voter turnout was a measly 28% in Cincinnati. To say that he has a clear mandate is not quite accurate.

  • Peter Buck

    Waste of money for a theme park ride in downtown Cincy. What about long-term O&M costs? Anyone consider those?

  • Yes actually. After designing and studying the project for more than six years, someone did actually look at operation costs and how to pay for them. Feel free to check the Google:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=cincinnati+streetcar+operating+costs

  • Jay

    I work downtown and deal with out-of-town tourists and business people on a daily basis. The streetcar is not a “theme park ride” as you believe, but will be an extremely valuable vehicle for these people when trying to make their way around the city. Most young professionals want to live in urban, walkable neighborhoods with good public transportation. The streetcar makes the decision to move to Cincinnati for work much more attractive, adds to our population and our tax base. As the years pass and more businesses and people move to Cincinnati this increased tax revenue will more than pay for operating costs.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Yes it is very expensive, but future extensions will be much less expensive per-mile. Why? First, a streetcar barn that can hold 14 streetcars is currently under construction, but we are only buying 5 for this first phase. Second, there was a one-time fee paid to CAF to custom engineer streetcars for Cincinnati’s hills. Third, moving utilities in the Downtown area is more complex and expensive than anywhere else in the city.

  • Matthew Korte

    Nice numbers but what’s the percentage voted for Cranley and the referendums? Be honest, how many voted against?

  • Diagonalec

    Judging only by headlines of the media this mayor-elect sounds borderly robfordian. I put hope in Cincinnatians to transform his view.
    May the Force (and the Media) be with you, Cincinnati!

  • Blake Fox

    I do not know those numbers, but I saw that Council man P.G. Sittenfeld garnered 4000 more votes than the mayor. I believe Cranley has 17% of the eligible Cincinnati voters. Not all voted for him because of the Streetcar issue. He has voted similar to Roxanne and is well liked within the large neighborhoods outside downtown.

  • We’re spending $331 million on a three-mile road in Cleveland that no one really even likes, except for the handful of business groups that will directly profit from it. Where’s the drama over that?

  • Mark R. Brown

    Doesn’t Cincy also have a partially complete subway system that’s been left derelict for 50 years? Let’s not repeat history.

  • Rob Naylor

    Yes, they also have an unfinished subway system. I believe this would make Cincinnati the only city with two abandoned rail projects…

  • Nathanael

    As noted above, the City believes that Duke Energy is obligated to pay $16 million for utility relocation, but if the project is cancelled, the city will have to pay that as well. I’m not sure whether this is double-counting, but there’s an enormous amount of “sunk costs” here and the cost of finishing the streetcar project is likely about the same as the cost of abandoning it.

    But if you finish it it has some benefits, and if you don’t it has no benefits.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not suggesting the money would be better spent on roads. Just pointing out that the project cost is 2x more expensive than similar projects. That makes it harder to maintain political support.

  • DC

    it was a bad idea and still is . . .

  • Matthew Korte

    Yeah, I think the parking plan hurt Qualls, but of the two pro-streetcar incumbents returned by voters, two are also pro-parking plan. Sittenfeld got more votes than Cranley, but you can’t compare because a vote for PG wasn’t necessarily a vote against someone you liked better, as it was with the mayoral race.

  • Greg Tingey

    Just goes to show how stupid CIncinatti residents & popliticians are.
    After all cars are so wonderful & so are their corrupt pushers

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