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Federal Funding for Streetcar on Hold

Updated: Tuesday, December 3 2013, 12:28 PM EST
CINCINNATI (Angenette Levy) -- A standing room only crowd filled Cincinnati city council chambers Monday for a marathon session on the delaying construction of the streetcar.

A committee and special session of council lasted nearly eight hours.

The newly-formed streetcar committee passed 11 ordinances related to suspending and defunding the streetcar project. All but one passed by a 5-4 vote.
"This is a very sad day for Cincinnati," said Ryan Messer, a member of the pro-streetcar group.  "We Believe in Cincinnati."  He owns a home on the line.

Some new members of city council, including David Mann and Kevin Flynn, said they want to delay the project to allow time for an independent study to be conducted.  They said they want to know the true cost of canceling the project versus completing it.

Supporters spoke to council for nearly three hours, asking them to keep the project moving forward.
"Do you want to be remembered in Cincinnati history as the mayor and city council that stopped the momentum, the progress and development of our city," asked Marilyn Wellinghoff.

Former city council member and streetcar supporter Jim Tarbell also asked council to reconsider.

"Had we done the subway you couldn't touch this city," Tarbell said, referencing the subway system Cincinnati started building in the early 1900's but never finished.

The 11 emergency ordinances that passed out of committee have funding appropriations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000. Under Ohio law, any ordinances with funding attached cannot be subject to referendum.

Construction on the streetcar would not continue as supporters hoped while they gather enough signatures to place an ordinance on the ballot. Mayor John Cranley said that was part of the reason funding was included.

"Their strategy is merely to delay at an expense of $100,000 a day to the taxpayer," Mayor Cranley said. Cranley has said he's not opposed to the streetcar being placed on the ballot as a charter amendment.

Delaying construction will have a negative impact on the construction workers building the tracks.

"We will be laying off, I'd say, 80% of our employees that are currently on the project if indeed it's paused," said Jim Prus of Prus construction.

Council member Kevin Flynn has been opposed to the streetcar but he supported it in the past. He said he's frustrated by the lack of hard numbers in projecting the cost of operating the streetcar. He said he could change his mind after seeing numbers from an independent study.

Frustration among council members seemed to be at a tipping point Monday evening. Earlier in the day the Federal Transit Administration froze the nearly $45 million it pledged to the project.

The chief counsel for the FTA has said delaying the project would be a violation of the grant agreement and $4 million in federal funding already spent would have to be returned.

Project manager John Deatrick said delaying the project could cost $600,000 per month.

"I find it ironic that people in Washington DC believe in Cincinnati but there are members of our council who do not," said council member Wendell Young.

Council member Yvette Simpson appeared exasperated as the meeting came to an end.
"I'm so sick and tired of living in a city that says no more than it says yes. I thought we were over it," Simpson said.

A second special session of city council will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m. Public comments are welcome at the meeting. The ordinances will be voted on at the regular council meeting Wednesday.

The Haile Foundation said Monday it would pay for an independent study of canceling the streetcar. The organization supports the project. One of its executives said Monday stopping the streetcar could jeopardize its partnership with the city on projects at Smale Riverfront Park and Music Hall.

Watch video HEREFederal Funding for Streetcar on Hold

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