Morning News: streetcar traffic study underway; Franklin monument to confederacy placed on private property

The city launched a study of traffic patterns in downtown and Over-the-Rhine that could help speed up lagging service time for the streetcar.

click to enlarge NICK SWARTSELL
Nick Swartsell

Good morning all. Here’s your news today.

It must be exhausting to run for elected office, even on a local level. I know it's exhausting to cover it. Last week, Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson faced off not once or twice, but four times, including at an event Friday hosted by the Urban Land Institute of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati Real Estate Center. That forum was a bit more detailed than others have been recently, with both candidates discussing specific policy ideas somewhat in depth.

Of course, there were plenty of attacks, as well, with Cranley hitting Simpson again on her vote to require Children’s Hospital to give money to Avondale in exchange for the go-ahead on a half-billion dollar expansion. Simpson, meanwhile, reminded voters about Cranley’s failed parks tax levy, which would have amended the city’s charter to raise money for park projects approved by the mayor. Simpson and Cranley also tangled over how to retain Millennials, how to boost the city’s economic growth and other issues, but agreed on the city’s approach to using tax abatements to prod neighborhood development. The city recently revamped its efforts to do so with a plan that could boost funding for affordable housing and neighborhood projects.

At the Friday event, Simpson shared her proposal for redeveloping Queensgate to increase industrial and other jobs in the city. She’d do that, she says, by boosting funding to the Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which has had its eye on the area for some time. Simpson says she would try to get state and federal grants to get more money to the development authority.

Cranley, meanwhile, talked about a proposal to run the streetcar later in the evening as a way to help boost its sagging ridership. Cranley is no fan of the transit project but says it could work well as a “beer hopping tool” if it stays open until bars close. The move would necessitate trimming service during other parts of the day when ridership is sparser. Cranley also touched on what he thinks the city should do instead of extending the streetcar uptown, as some advocates want to do. The mayor is dead-set against that, but does think that the city should increase bus service and offer shuttles between downtown and the areas around University of Cincinnati and the city’s major hospitals.

• If you’re looking to weigh in on the mayoral, city council or other choices on the ballot Nov. 7 but haven’t registered yet, you’re running out of time. The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is tomorrow — Oct. 10. You can register online here or grab registration forms from the your nearest library or elections office. Early voting begins the next day, Oct. 11.

• Also on that ballot: board members for Cincinnati Public Schools. The normally sleepy CPS Board of Education election is heating up this year. Voters will have to pick from 13 candidates for four empty seats on the board that oversees the half-billion budget for one of the largest public school systems in the state. That won’t be the only change coming to the board, either. Board member Chris Nelms passed away last month, and now the CPS BOE’s remaining six members will need to vote on a replacement to fulfill the rest of his term. They’ve got their work cut out for them: There are 25 applicants for the $5,000 a year job, including five who are also running for one of the other four empty seats.

• Another election with huge stakes for the city will happen tomorrow. That’s when shareholders for Procter & Gamble will decide whether or not to elect activist investor Nelso Peltz to the company’s board of directors. Peltz, who heads hedge fund and major P&G stock holder Trian Fund Management, would like to cut executive and research and development jobs at the company, as well as slim down the number of brands P&G offers. That’s important because many of the 10,000 P&G jobs in the city are in those areas. Peltz says he’d like to winnow the number of employees in P&G’s upper-echelon corporate jobs down to 1,000. The potential loss of those high-end jobs could have a big impact on the Cincinnati region.

• A traffic study that could address long wait times for the streetcar is underway. That study, ordered by Cincinnati City Council in January, is the first in two decades for downtown and Over-the-Rhine. City officials say it will continue through the winter and that changes to traffic signal patterns and other traffic control efforts will then be made in the spring.

• It’s go time to find funding options for Hamilton County’s chunk of the $310 million it will cost to replace the aging Western Hills Viaduct, county leaders say. The bridge is suffering from cracks — which transportation officials say aren’t structurally dangerous — and falling concrete. State and federal dollars will be needed to get the enormous project off the ground, but those funds require a local match, and deadlines are approaching to apply for them. How to scrape together the local portion? Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune has a proposal that would raise about $30 million toward the Viaduct’s replacement by charging a $5 fee for driver’s license registration. Commissioners could vote on that fee as soon as Wednesday.

• A monument to confederate general Robert E. Lee removed by the city of Franklin will be placed on private property, Franklin Township officials have announced. Following national controversy around confederate monuments due to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this year, the monument was removed in the middle of the night from right of way near Dixie Highway, ostensibly due to concerns about its proximity to traffic. That led to outcry from many Franklin residents, who want the monument to stay, as well as action by racial justice activists seeking to keep the monument from being replaced.

• The common wisdom among Republicans in Ohio’s General Assembly is that the state’s Medicaid expansion is a costly disaster for the state — hence conservative lawmakers’ feverish efforts to roll it back. But is it expensive for Ohio to be part of the program, which insures 700,000 residents? An analysis by Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office says no. The Medicaid expansion is part of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act and was ushered in by Kasich amid much controversy. According to numbers from Kasich’s office, Ohio is actually making money on the expansion now. And, due to the way the state leverages federal money, it will actually break even as those federal funds taper off.

• The state’s infant mortality rate increased last year, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Health. In 2016, 1,024 infants died before their first birthday in Ohio — slightly more than the 1,005 who died in 2015. Ohio has recently been as low as 45th in the nation when it comes to infant mortality. That rate is three times higher for black infants than white ones. The state has tucked $50 million into its budget, most of which will go to local health departments, to try and address those disparities and reduce the number of infant deaths statewide.