Streetcar supporters packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square on Nov. 14 to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.
Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event’s organizers.
In attendance were Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and supporters from around the city.
The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin lobbying the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the $133 million project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project’s cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.
The city released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration on Nov. 14 stating the city must return nearly $41 million in federal grant money if it cancels the project; the remaining $4 million in federal funds would fall under the discretion of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio.
The city’s share of the $133 million total cost is $88 million, $23 million of which has already been spent as of September.
Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar’s benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.
Streetcar supporters argue the city would be forfeiting a great return on investment — 2.7-to-1, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was affirmed by the University of Cincinnati — if the project were canceled. They also claim cancellation could lead to various unknown costs, including potential litigation from taxpayers who live along the planned streetcar line and contractors already involved in the project.
But opponents argue the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. They say the project has forced the city to raise property taxes and deprioritize projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.