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Feds: Killing Cincinnati Streetcar Project Unprecedented

Updated: Tuesday, November 26 2013, 09:55 PM EST
CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- "Unprecedented."  That's what federal transportation officials call a plan to kill Cincinnati's ongoing streetcar project.

If that's done, taxpayer money already in place goes back to Uncle Sam and eventually other cities.  City council's budget and finance committee Monday quizzed the legal counsel of the Federal Transit Authority via telephone.  Local 12's Joe Webb is at the streetcar construction site with new developments in the controversy.

Despite all the talk, the project is going ahead like nothing is going on. They are tearing up street and laying track. Mayor-elect John Cranley says the project is dead and he will stop it.

Monday, the city council that has less than a week left in office took some steps to make that a little harder to do.

From the looks of things you'd think the streetcar project is a go. And if it were up to most of the council members on this committee it would still be a go. Monday, the budget and finance committee spoke via phone line with Dorval Carter the chief counsel of the Federal Transit Authority. 

Carter told council members pausing the streetcar construction would violate the grant agreement the city has with the federal government.
That would prompt Uncle Sam to cut off money and collect the money already used by the city.

He also said stopping the streetcar could have ramifications down the road for Sorta, the bus authority.  Plus, it would put Cincinnati at the back of the line for any other federal transit funds and put them under additional scrutiny the next time they applied for funds.

He also said of the 14 other cities getting streetcar funds, Cincinnati was unique.

"Has there been any indication of action from any other project in this entire country to pause or cancel their streetcars?  No."

After the call, the committee passed an ordinance making completion of the streetcar project's phase one a law. 

"The way the streetcar looks right now is there are pots of money council has allocated. Pots of money the manager can then use so a future Mayor could come in and say, Im administratively directing you to stop the work.  This creates a law that says you have to do this."

So, the gist of Mondays vote was to make the streetcar project a matter of law so it takes a vote of council to stop it.  They appear to have a majority on the new council in favor of killing the project. They get sworn in Sunday.

Next week, the political landscape changes. Two current streetcar supporters are not on the new city council. They are out of work at City Hall and a lot of construction workers could be out of work pretty soon, too.

The Federal Transit Authority lawyer said the grant money could not help fund a rubber-wheeled trolley system or be reused by the city on other projects. That money would go back to the federal government and then to other cities building streetcars.

Video HEREFeds: Killing Cincinnati Streetcar Project Unprecedented

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