City council removes final funding hurdles for streetcar

CINCINNATI - In a series of votes, Cincinnati City Council cleared the way for construction to start on the controversial streetcar project.

With an overwhelmingly majority vote, council members voted to use money from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport and $14 million from a downtown TIF tax funding district to help pay for the estimated $110 million streetcar project. The new funds could cover costs of relocating gas and electric utility lines along the streetcar route.

The current plans call for a streetcar loop to run from Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine through downtown and The Banks.

"The streetcar is full speed ahead, just like the voters have said twice. We are ready to get his thing started. Whether you agree with it or disagree with it, I think we just want to move on, and move on to helping create more jobs in the city. The streetcar is ready to start. It's just a matter of getting steel in the ground and utilities moved," said Councilmember Chris Seelbach.

Seelbach also says most of council is confident it can get Duke Energy to pay back the costs of relocating utility lines for the streetcar because they feel the law is on their side. They indicate they are ready to take Duke Energy to court over the issue if it can't be settled in negotiations.

There were only a few people in the audience Wednesday afternoon. One person spoke against the streetcar project before council members.

On some of the measures, one council member voted against the streetcar funding. Chris Smitherman says he disagrees with the funding priorities of his fellow council members, especially on spending money on a streetcar. Councilmember Charlie Winburn joined Smitherman and voted against the project in at least one vote Wednesday.

"Here we are today, with pulling money from the Blue Ash Airport that was clearly promised for the neighborhoods and draining our TIF dollars, which could be very significant, if we need to recruit another business to downtown Cincinnati, cause that's what those dollars are for," said Smitherman.

Smitherman says he fears there is little to stop money from being spent on the streetcar now for a projected opening in late 2014. However, he does feel that elections for mayor and city council next year may give voters a chance to affect the streetcar project.

"I think when we are talking about a 2013 election, where we'll have a new council, which is one of the reasons I have not supported 4-year terms, cause I think voters will have an opportunity to intervene next year. We'll have a new mayor running, there is going to be a city council race, so I certainly have some hope there," said Smitherman.

 

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