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by German Lopez 07.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar at 11:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Cincinnati Streetcar Scheduled to Open Sept. 15, 2016

Grand opening among several dates set after construction deal finalized

Following years of political controversy, the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016.

The news was unveiled in a city memo this morning, which detailed the streetcar project’s future following a construction deal with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad.

The news comes after Messer revealed it will need nearly $500,000 more to do construction work, which will be covered by the project’s $10 million contingency funds.

The memo detailed other upcoming milestones for the streetcar project:
• March 1, 2015: Substantial completion of a 3,000-foot test track and maintenance center.
• June 29, 2015: Substantial completion of Over-the-Rhine loop.
• March 15, 2016: Substantial completion of all work.

City Council recently approved $17.4 million in additional capital funding for the streetcar project, along with various accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s progress. The projects estimated cost now stands at $133 million.

Ever since its inception, the Cincinnati streetcar has been mired in political controversies and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, 2013 Election, Budget at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
qualls

Morning News and Stuff

Inclusion becomes mayoral issue, streetcar clears hurdle, state budget cuts local funding

Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue. One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on council between 2000 and 2009.

Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund. With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city. That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.

The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011, even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.

Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.

The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.

Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking, an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.

Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.

Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.

HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.12.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Gets Good News with New Construction Bid

Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund

Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the city established in case of further cost overruns.

In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

During discussions for the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.

Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if the project was to continue.

With the construction bids taken care of, the only known funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The issue is currently being decided in court.

Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.11.2013
Posted In: News, Guns, Budget, Streetcar at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover streetcar misrepresentations

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar project misrepresented, gun control battle continues, Media Bridges closing down

Ever since the Cincinnati streetcar has been envisioned, the mass transit project has been mired in misrepresentations driven largely by opponents and politicians. CityBeat has a breakdown of the misrepresentations here, showing some of the silliest and biggest falsehoods claimed by opponents and supporters.

The national battle over gun control came to Cincinnati on July 4 when former Rep. Gabby Giffords stopped at the Northside parade to call for new restrictions on firearms. Giffords is part of a slew of national leaders calling for stronger regulations and enforcement for background checks — a policy more than nine in 10 Americans support. Still, the call seems to be politically unheard so far: Federal legislation is stalled in Congress, and Ohio legislators are working to loosen gun restrictions.

Facing city budget cuts, public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down by the end of the year. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the organization lost state funding that had been provided through an agreement with Time Warner Cable. But city officials claim the local funding was supposed to act as a one-year reprieve and nothing more — a claim Media Bridges was apparently never made aware of until it was too late. To justify the cut, the city cites public surveys that ranked budget programs in terms of importance, but a look at the citizen surveys shows the demographics were skewed against low-income people who make the most use out of programs like Media Bridges.

Check out CityBeat’s editorial content for this week’s issue:
• German Lopez: “Meet Daniela,” the hypothetical victim of Republican policies at the state and national level.
• Ben Kaufman: “‘Enquirer’ Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination,” which analyzes the questionable apathy to a supposedly “illegal” ordination of a woman Catholic priest.
• Kathy Wilson: “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” a look at the life story of South African leader Nelson Mandela and the hurdles he faced as he helped end discriminatory apartheid policies.

If you’re headed to Fountain Square today, expect to see some images of bloodied fetuses and fetal limbs. An anti-abortion group is showing a video with the gruesome visuals as part of a protest against what it sees as “the greatest human rights injustice of our time.” The group defends its tactics by citing its First Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has so far refused to rule one way or the other on the issue, but, barring some restrictions for airwave broadcasts, the court typically protects all kinds of political speech as long as it’s not pornographic.

The Cincinnati Police Department is changing how it responds to calls to focus on what it sees as the most important issues, such as impacting violent crime, youth intervention efforts, long-term problem solving projects, traffic safety and neighborhood quality-of-life issues. The biggest change will come with how the department reacts to minor traffic accidents: It will still respond, but it may not file a report.

The so-far-unnamed Greater Cincinnati coalition working to reduce the local infant mortality rate set a goal yesterday: zero. It’s a dramatic vision for a region that, at 13.6, has an infant mortality rate more than twice the national average of six, as CityBeat covered here.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced in a statement yesterday that he will be gathering local leaders and health officials to encourage the state to expand Medicaid. The expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here, would save Ohio money and insure half a million Ohioans in the next decade, according to an analysis by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

Fish oils may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study.

A measure that would disallow employers from discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals made it through a U.S. Senate committee yesterday.

Cadillac’s Super Cruise could have the features to making self-driving cars viable.

A device trains blind people to see by listening.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.26.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Streetcar, City Council at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Approves Streetcar Budget Fixes

Funding for development at Fourth, Race streets also gets approval

City Council today approved funding and accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project, allowing the project to move forward.

On Monday, the Budget and Finance Committee approved the measures, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. The funding ordinance closes the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino.

The accountability motion will require the city manager to update City Council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she voted for the accountability motion.

City Council also unanimously approved funding for a development project on Fourth and Race streets, which includes a downtown grocery store, luxury apartment tower and parking garage to replace Pogue's Garage. CityBeat covered that project in further detail here.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.25.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Commissioners, Governor at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news2_streetcar_coast_rs

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar moves forward, sewer compromise hits impasse, Kasich's approval at all-time high

The streetcar project is moving forward following yesterday’s votes from City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that will keep the public updated on the project’s progress. The increased funding fixes the project’s $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The accountability measures will require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

At the same committee meeting, council members failed to carry out a repeal of “local hire” and “local preference” laws, which was part of an earlier announced compromise between the city and county that would allow work on sewer projects to continue. At this point, it’s unclear whether the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will repeal the funding hold on sewer projects. The commissioners passed the hold after City Council modified its “responsible bidder” law in May. The city says the laws encourage local job creation and training, but the county claims the rules favor unions and impose extra costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects.

Republican Gov. John Kasich’s approval ratings hit an all-time high of 54 percent in a new Quinnipiac University poll, helping him hold a 14-point lead against likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald. All in all, at this stage, Kasich has done a pretty good job appealing to voters across the state, said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown. FitzGerald remains pretty much an unknown to most Ohioans, with only one in four voters knowing enough about him to have formed an opinion. The election is a long way away, but the next stage will be the race to define FitzGerald, positively by the candidate himself and negatively by the Kasich folks.

The Cincinnati office for the Internal Revenue Service also targeted liberal groups, particularly those who used the terms “progressive” and “occupy.” The IRS has been under scrutiny in the past few months for targeting conservative groups by honing in on terms such as “tea party” and “9/12.”

Ohio gave tax incentives to four more Cincinnati-area businesses. Overall, 15 projects received the breaks to supposedly spur $379 million in investment across Ohio.

Miami University banned smoking in cars on campus and raised tuition.

Headline: “Columbus man rips off his penis while high on drugs.”

Here is a history of red panda escapes.

A study found people find others more attractive after getting a shock to the brain.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Project to Move Forward

Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency

The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.

The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.

The accountability measures also require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

"The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.

Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed.

"I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."

Smitherman did not seem convinced.

"I believe the administration will be back asking for more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate the project.

Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process.

"You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.

Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded.

The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.

Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.

Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.

Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents.

"If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.

Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.

Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."

The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.

Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.

The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo.

"If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing," Dohoney previously told City Council. "The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that."

But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."

The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.

If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Economy, City Council, Commissioners at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar vote today, sewer project compromise reached, "megadeals" fail expectations

The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project, but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder” ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.

Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals” — massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In 2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above 1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.

As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.

The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence and unsanitary conditions.

About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job, and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic indicators.

President Barack Obama will make a speech tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require congressional action.

Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.

Plants apparently do math to get through the night.

Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.

Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email glopez@citybeat.com.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.21.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
streetcar

Feds Commit Another $5 Million to Streetcar Project

City Council expected to vote on budget updates Monday

Cincinnati's streetcar project is getting another $5 million in federal funding. But before the money is handed over, the city must first eliminate cost overruns that have recently put the project in danger.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the news in a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory dated June 19. The letter acknowledges the project's recent cost overruns, but goes on to claim the federal government still backs the project.

"The DOT (Department of Transportation) continues to support your bold vision for economic development and enhanced transportation choices for the city of Cincinnati, and we believe that this project is a significant component of that vision. With that in mind, I want to provide up to $5 million in additional assistance from DOT," LaHood wrote.

But the money comes with two conditions: The city must first fix the streetcar project's cost overruns and restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view.

The $5 million will be on top of the nearly $40 million the federal government has already contributed to the project through various grants and programs.

The funding bump comes just in time for City Council's Monday vote on the streetcar project's cost overruns.

In February, the city received construction bids that were $26 million to $43 million over budget, effectively leading to a $17.4 million budget gap and a $133 million overall cost for the project.

Since then, City Manager Milton Dohoney proposed a few fixes to City Council, including pulling funding from various capital projects and issuing more debt.

At the same time, Dohoney told City Council the city administration was working with federal officials to find opportunities for more federal funding. The new commitment is presumably the result of those discussions.

City Council is expected to vote on the budget fixes Monday. So far, council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Laure Quinlivan have vowed support, but Council will need a fifth vote — perhaps from Chris Seelbach or Pam Thomas — to pass the changes.

Read the full letter below:

   Streetcar Letter to Mayor Mallory



Update (3:55 p.m.): This story was updated with additional context.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.21.2013
Posted In: News, Taxes, Streetcar, Economy at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio unemployment unchanged in May, budget overhauls taxes, streetcar vote Monday

Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7 percent in May, unchanged from April and down from 7.3 percent in May 2012, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Although the number of unemployed increased by 5,000 between April and May, the number of employed also increased by 32,100, keeping the rate relatively stable. Most sectors tracked in the report, including government, gained jobs.

The final version of the state budget would cut income taxes and create a state-based earned income tax credit, but it would also hike the sales tax and make changes to property taxes that effectively increase rates. Republican state legislators rolled out the tax plan yesterday as a compromise between the Ohio House and Senate plans. The final version looks a lot more like Gov. John Kasich’s original tax proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for favoring the wealthy. The budget must be signed by Kasich by June 30.

City Council is expected to vote on the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap on Monday. The gap is a result of construction bids coming in much higher than expected, and solving it would involve making cuts for a slew of capital programs, including infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. The cuts will all come from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fund operating budget expenses like police and fire because of limits established in state law.

Three days after City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Port Authority still hadn’t signed the lease, and it remains unclear when the agency plans to do so. City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease. But the delays have raised questions about whether there truly will be local control over the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority, given that the agency is already going against the wills and assumptions of the city government by failing to sign the lease.

City Councilman Chris Seelbach announced on Twitter that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel will release a joint statement on the city’s “responsible bidder” ordinance later today. The city and county have been clashing over the ordinance, with county commissioners most recently putting a hold on all Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here.

Federal data released this week shows Ohio has some of the weakest gun laws and, as a result, is a top source for guns for crimes committed in other states.

Construction is expected to cause some downtown ramp closures and restrictions next week, so prepare for delays or a change in commute.

A Japanese scientist may have to grow his human organs in pigs.

The world’s first 3-D printed battery is as small as a grain of sand.

 
 

 

 

 
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