Cincinnati’s long-discussed streetcar system is a bit closer to reality today after City Council approved spending $2.58 million on the project.
The money will be used for planning and design work for the system. Its first phase would be a loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, with a later segment built to the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati and local hospitals.
Council voted 6-2 to support the spending. In favor were Democrats Laketa Cole, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Cecil Thomas, Charterite Chris Bortz and independent Jeff Berding.
Opposed were Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel; Republican Charlie Winburn abstained from the vote, stating he was on a “listening tour” to gauge the public’s views about the project. Tour dates weren't announced.
Ghiz, Monzel and Thomas all are running for a seat on the Hamilton County Commission this fall.
In a rambling speech, Monzel referred to the streetcar project as the “trolley folly” and compared it to other government-sponsored programs like what he referred to as “ObamaCare.”
Meanwhile, Ghiz called the spending irresponsible.
"The city is facing an unprecedented budgetary shortfall, our bond rating outlook is ‘negative,’ and our pension is going belly up,” Ghiz said. “For the administration to even consider issuing more debt to pay for a streetcar system is a gross neglect of fiduciary duty."
Qualls, however, noted the city’s own studies indicate the project would yield a nearly 14-to-1 return on its investment and would help create new jobs.
In April 2008, City Council approved the initial planning stages for the $128 million looped route and a connector link to the uptown area. Eventually, a loop also would be built in uptown for another $48 million.
If the streetcar system is successful, additional routes could be built in other parts of the city and Northern Kentucky during the next several decades.
A city feasibility study in 2007 concluded the streetcar project would have a $1.4 billion economic impact as it helps spark residential and commercial redevelopment on blighted and vacant properties along the route as similar systems have done in Portland, Ore., and elsewhere.
City officials also are hoping to score state and federal grants for the project.
UPDATE: Bradley Thomas, founder of the Cincy Streetcar Blog, wrote to tell me the system's first phase will extend to the University of Cincinnati, ending approximately where the Kroger store is located in Corryville. The second phase will continue northward to the hospitals and the zoo. We stand corrected and thanks for the information, Brad.