by German Lopez
97 days ago
Federal grants tied to streetcar, transit projects
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3. The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar:
“Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley
lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations
and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use,
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that
curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects,
according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit
improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow
improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project,
but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is
defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies
and investments that increase transportation choices and access to
transportation services for people in communities across the United
States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I
believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the
governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because
that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place
doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley
and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally
supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City
Council motions, but Cranley says those motions,
which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the
merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the
first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually
build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept
in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a
way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from
what I thought were more important priorities.”
2 Comments · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I’ve been a longtime supporter of the
streetcar project, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried after finding
out the streetcar might be delayed once again because construction bids
for the project were way over budget.
How the new streetcar’s story will differ from the one that ended 60 years ago
1 Comment · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
After signing a utility relocation
agreement with Duke Energy on Feb. 1, Cincinnati City Manager Milton
Dohoney, Jr. declared, “The streetcar is happening.”
by German Lopez
123 days ago
GOP questions Medicaid expansion, Qualls' streetcar concerns, council backs efficiency
State legislators, particularly Republicans, have a lot of questions regarding Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion.
Legislators are worried the state won’t be able to opt out of the
expansion if the federal government reneges its funding promise, raising
potential financial hurdles. As part of Obamacare, the federal
government pays for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first
three years, and the share phases down to 90 percent after that.
Kasich’s budget includes a trigger — called a “circuit breaker” — in
case the federal government ever funds less than currently promised. A
study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found
the Medicaid expansion could insure nearly 500,000 people and generate
$1.4 billion by raising revenue and shifting funding burdens from the state to federal
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a longtime supporter of the streetcar, is getting concerned
about some of the problems surrounding the project. In a memo to the
city manager, Qualls suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and
timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League
Baseball All-Star Game. The memo was in response to streetcar
construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a
setback that could cause further delays or more funding problems.
With Councilman Chris Seelbach’s strong support, City Council passed a resolution urging the state government to maintain its energy efficiency standards.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the Public
Utilities Committee, sent out a memo Feb. 1 that pledged to review the
state’s standards, causing much concern among environmental groups.
Tolls for the Brent Spence Bridge could be as low as $2,
according to financial consultants involved with the project. The tolls
will help pay for the massive rehabilitation project, which gained
national attention when President Barack Obama visited Cincinnati to support rebuilding the bridge.
State Democrats and Republicans have some questions
about the governor’s Ohio Turnpike plan. Some Democrats are concerned
the state government won’t actually freeze toll hikes at the rate of inflation for
EZPass users. Others are worried
about language in the bill. The plan leverages the Ohio Turnpike to fund a statewide construction program.
The man accused of dumping fracking waste into the Mahoning River in Youngstown was arrested and charged with violating the Clean Water Act.
Dayton wants to help
illegal immigrants who are victims of crime. The Dayton City Commission
approved a $30,000 contract with a law firm to help potential
victims. CityBeat previously covered the recent struggles of children of illegal immigrants in Ohio.
A Dayton Daily News report found Ohio overpays unemployment compensation claims by millions of dollars.
The University of Cincinnati is launching a technology incubator for mobile apps.
In his State of the County address yesterday, Commission President Chris Monzel said Hamilton County is “on the move and getting stronger.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine and officials from other states announced a $29 million settlement with Toyota over the unintended acceleration debacle. Ohio will get $1.7 million from the settlement.
A meteor flew over Russian skies and exploded with the strength of an atomic bomb Friday, causing a sonic blast that shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people.
Scientists engineered mice that can’t feel the cold. Certain people on CityBeat’s
staff would probably do anything for this superpower, but scientists
are probably going to use it to make better pain medication.
by German Lopez
123 days ago
Streetcar construction bids come over budget
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh
memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125
million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious
concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project,
everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public
dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the
project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to
support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in
line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major
League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former
Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the
streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar
in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the
city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
by German Lopez
124 days ago
Cranley calls for streetcar's end, SORTA obtains federal grant, casino gets state approval
John Cranley is calling for the city to halt progress on the streetcar after a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer revealed the city’s construction bids are $26 million to $43 million over budget.
City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city might throw out the bids and
start the bidding process again, but no final decision has been made yet. But
Cranley argues the city has no leverage over bidders because it already bought the
streetcars. In CityBeat’s in-depth look at the streetcar,
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, said the cars had to be bought early
so they can be built, tested and burned into the tracks while giving
staff enough time to get trained — a process that could take as long as
two and a half years. The city also cautions that sorting through the
bids will take a few more weeks.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) landed a $2.5 million grant
to purchase seven new buses. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat,
yesterday announced SORTA had won the competitive grant from the U.S. Department
of Transportation. The new buses will replace old ones that
are no longer good for service.
The Horseshoe Casino got approval from the state yesterday despite fears of bankruptcy
surrounding the casino’s parent company. As a precaution, the Ohio
Casino Control Commission is requiring Caesar’s, the troubled company,
to undergo annual financial reviews and notify the commission of any
major financial plans, including any intent to file bankruptcy. Caesar’s
is currently $22 billion in debt.
Ohio legislators have a lot of questions
about Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula. Kasich claims his
formula levels the playing field between poor and wealthy schools, but Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican, pointed out his
poor Appalachian district is getting no money under the formula, while
the suburban, well-off Olentangy Schools are getting a 300 percent
increase. In a previous glimpse at the numbers for Cincinnati Public
Schools (CPS), CityBeat found the funding increases aren’t enough to make up for past cuts — largely because of the phaseout of tangible personal property reimbursements.
Another report found low-performing schools could be forced to outsource teaching. The new policy has aggravated some local officials.
Kasich’s budget will apparently benefit
the state’s mentally ill and addicted. Mental health advocates said the
budget will expand treatment, housing and other services. Most of the
benefits will come from the Medicaid expansion.
CPS says it will not lose any funding over the state auditor’s attendance scrubbing report. The report, released Tuesday, found CPS had been scrubbing attendance data, but the school district claims errors were not intentional.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel will give the State of the County address later today.
Ohio Third Frontier approved $3.6 million in new funds to support Ohio innovation. About $200,000 is going to Main Street Ventures, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator.
Cincinnati Art Museum named an interim curator: Cynthia Amneus.
Covington is getting a new city hall.New evidence shows lab testing on mice may not be helpful for humans. Apparently, mice and human genes are too different for treatments to be comparable.
by German Lopez
126 days ago
LGBT supporter loses job, Terhar remains board president, local schools scrubbed data
A Purcell Marian High School administrator was fired
for declaring his public support for same-sex marriage. Mike Moroski,
who was the assistant principal at the Catholic school, wrote about his
support for LGBT equality on his personal blog.
Following the blog post, Moroski claims he was given an ultimatum by
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to resign or recant his statements. CityBeat covered same-sex marriage and the amendment that could bring marriage equality to Ohio here.
A board vote failed to remove State Board of Education President Debe Terhar from her position. In response, Ohio Democrats filed a lawsuit
seeking access to her cell phone and other records. Terhar has been
receiving heavy criticism for a Facebook post that compared President
Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. CityBeat wrote about Terhar’s ridiculous Facebook post here.
Cincinnati Public Schools and Winton Woods City Schools were among nine city school districts found to be scrubbing attendance data
by the state auditor. The school districts claim most the errors were
simple mistakes, not intentional manipulation of data. Both the auditor
and schools agree state policy is too confusing and must change.
The city of Cincinnati is beginning the process of sorting through construction bids for the streetcar. Three bids ranging from $71 million to $87 million have already come to light, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The bids could push up the price tag on the streetcar, but
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, cautions the process is barely starting. CityBeat covered the streetcar and how it relates to the mayor’s race here.
Cincinnati is speeding up the demolitions of condemned buildings this year, particularly buildings near schools and family zones.
A new report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found
employment in the shale industry was up 17 percent in the first quarter
of 2012. Critics caution the jobs aren’t worth the risks —
pointing to a number of environmental and health concerns related to hydraulic
fracturing, or “fracking.” CityBeat wrote about fracking and its extensive problems here.
One in 25 students in Columbus schools are restrained or secluded.
The state’s lax seclusion policies have been under heavy criticism in
the past year following the discovery that school staff were using
seclusion for convenience, not just to restrain students.
On Wednesday, Metro staff will be holding a security
exercise meant to gauge counterterrorism capabilities. Metro bus service
will not be affected.
The Horseshoe Casino pays homage to Liuzhou, China — Cincinnati’s sister city of 25 years.
The chief curator resigned from the Cincinnati Art Museum.
A Cincinnati woman was charged with helping her daughter beat up a student during a classroom brawl.
Curiosity is officially the first robot to drill another planet.
by German Lopez
133 days ago
Cincinnati commuters spent an extra 37 hours on road due to traffic
Traffic can be awful — not just for drivers, but economies
and the environment as well. A study released Tuesday by the Texas A&M Institute
of Transportation found Cincinnati lost about $947 million in 2011 to delays on the road, coming in at No. 27 nationwide.The Annual Urban Mobility Report also ranked Cincinnati No. 37 nationwide for extra time stuck in traffic, with the average Cincinnati commuter
spending an extra 37 hours on the road in 2011.
In comparison, the average
Columbus commuter spent 40 extra hours in traffic in 2011, and the typical Cleveland commuter spent 31 extra hours. For all three cities, estimates were unchanged from 2010.Traffic jams also have a major impact on climate change. According to the report, congestion caused cars to produce an extra
56 billion pounds of carbon dioxide nationwide, with Cincinnati commuters producing 421
million pounds.The report shows why it’s important for governments to
reduce traffic congestion with transit projects like the Cincinnati streetcar. In general, public transportation leads to
less congestion by taking cars off the road as people use buses, streetcars and trains instead. But some cities have taken it even further. By adopting exclusive lanes for buses and
streetcars, cities like San Francisco have made public transportation more attractive, which makes people more likely to forsake
their own cars in favor of public alternatives.
by German Lopez
134 days ago
Violence at private prison, JobsOhio gets liquor funds, Kasich's budget blueprint
There’s even more bad news coming from Ohio’s newly
privatized prison. Violence last week forced Corrections Corporation of
America (CCA) to call in
the state’s special response team, according to Plunderbund. Two teams
from the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation were
dispatched. Gov. John Kasich pushed prison privatization in his 2012-2013 budget to save costs. CityBeat covered private prisons and the shady connections CCA had to the current state government prior to the sale here.
There might be a court case disputing JobsOhio’s
constitutionality, but that hasn’t stopped the state government from
moving forward with implementing the private, nonprofit agency. On
Friday, the state announced it transferred $500 million
in state liquor funds to JobsOhio. The Ohio Supreme Court recently
agreed to take up a case from ProgressOhio disputing whether state funds
can be used for the private agency. Kasich established the
agency in an effort to encourage job growth in Ohio.
Kasich will reveal the blueprint for his 2014-2015 budget plan later today. According to Gongwer, his proposed budget will cut personal income taxes across the board
and offset the cuts by closing loopholes and broadening the sales tax
base. The governor has long been eying an income
tax cut. He previously suggested raising the oil and gas severance tax
to help pay for a tax cut, but the plan faces bipartisan opposition.
In the 2013 mayoral race, John Cranley is currently outraising
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, but both Democrats are fairly close. Qualls has raised $134,188, while Cranley
has raised $170,877. Most of the race has focused on the streetcar so far, with Qualls supporting and Cranley against the twice-voter-approved transit project.
The city of Cincinnati and Duke Energy have reached
a limited agreement to
meet in court to settle who has to pay for moving utility lines to
accommodate for the streetcar’s tracks. As part of the agreement, Duke will begin moving lines in the next few weeks, even while the city and Duke wait for courts
to decide who will pay for moving the lines. Mayor Mark Mallory also announced the city will try to finish
the streetcar project in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball
All-Star Game, but he added there are no guarantees. For more on the
streetcar and how it relates to the 2013 mayoral race, check out CityBeat’s cover story.Libertarian Jim Berns recently forced a mayoral primary by entering the race.
Community leaders around Greater Cincinnati are mapping out veteran services programs.
Ohio is expanding its foreclosure prevention program.
The maximum benefit possible has increased from $25,000 to $35,000, and
the highest annual household income allowed to participate in the
program is now $112,375.
The Ohio Board of Regents finished moving to the Ohio Board of Education building.
Looks like Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich’s Twitter account was hacked.
Smokers will pay higher prices under Obamacare.
Physicists have created crystals that are nearly alive.
by Hannah McCartney
137 days ago
Mallory announces construction to begin in April on track for 2015 completion
Another hurdle in the ongoing struggle to make the streetcar a reality was bypassed today, when Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. announced that after months entangled in a gridlock, Duke Energy and the city of Cincinnati have finally reached an agreement over who will pay for the relocation of utility lines. Somewhat of an agreement, anyway. Mallory said that the city and Duke will go before a judge in Common Pleas court, who will make the final decision as to who should pay for the utility relocation. According to the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities in the next few weeks, and the court decision will determine cost responsibility later. The city and Duke are expected to file in Common Pleas court within the next few weeks, although the court decision could take years to finalize.The city broke ground on the streetcar nearly a year ago, but the skirmish between Duke and the city delayed further development — Duke refused to begin any kind of construction before financial responsibility was determined. The reconciliation contains two separate agreements, one of which outlines how Duke will safely operate its utilities once the streetcar is in place. The other demarcates how Duke and the city will resolve the issue of financial responsibility; they've both agreed to abide by the court ruling after any appeals are exhausted. "The utilities' agreements are in place, the cars are being ordered and
the construction bids are coming in," announced Dohoney. Roxanne Qualls, city council member and Democratic mayoral candidate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar project, which she values as an indispensable economic investment for the city of Cincinnati. Yesterday, Qualls announced her request for the city to ramp up the streetcar construction timeline in order to have the project completed in time for the All-Star Games, which will take place in Cincinnati July 2015. Her announcement came just weeks after the city revised its timetable to delay project completion until April 2016. In a letter from Qualls to Mallory and Dohoney, she explains: “This may present a
challenge, but it is one I am sure the administration is capable of
meeting. The streetcar will serve a critical role in efficiently and
effectively moving visitors to and from Great American Ballpark and
allowing them to conveniently visit other venues such as Fountain
Square, Horseshoe Casino, Over-the-Rhine, Washington Park, etc.” At the meeting, Mallory announced that the city would shoot for construction to be completed prior to the games, but there were no guarantees. The streetcar builder will ultimately set the timeline for the project, according to Jason Barron, Mallory's director of public affairs. CityBeat recently covered the streetcar project's delays and how the 2013 mayoral race could affect its progress here.