CINCINNATI — For Cincinnati residents like Valerie Tobin, the ding of the approaching streetcar is a common and welcome tone.
She said she rides it all the time with her grandchildren to run errands, but she wished it ran in more areas than between The Banks and Over-the-Rhine.
“I just want it to make it to Corryville and where Hughes School is at,” Tobin said.
She was happy to hear that hundreds were set to consider nine new proposed streetcar routes which, if completed, would connect more than a dozen miles of Cincinnati from Fairmount to Walnut Hills, and Corryville down across the Ohio River into Newport.
For city leaders like council member Meeka Owens, however, there’s a problem.
The existing line cost $148 million to build.
“That’s the most important question, right? Obviously, as a city, we’re facing a deficit. So we’re in no place to understand which direction we’re going in, let alone the cost,” Owens said.
Owens said she was excited by the prospect of a more robust public transit system, especially one that would help the city reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, but she acknowledged funding channels could be difficult to find.
She said the money generated from Issue 22’s sale of the Cincinnati railroad, for example, is earmarked for existing infrastructure and wouldn’t be available for new projects.
Owens expressed optimism in the federal government’s recent willingness to direct funding to infrastructure projects but said it may have to take a local, state and federal investment to make any or all of the routes a reality.
“I think it would have to be a thoughtful conversation with federal, state, and local leaders to see what exists,” she said.
Owens said the city was preparing for a streetcar expansion regardless of roadblocks, however, and said the streetcar department planned to distribute a survey among riders within weeks to gauge rider’s thoughts.
“We want to be a city that’s growing,” she said, “We want to be a city that is booming. We’ve got a lot of work to do there, but, obviously, transit has to be parallel to that discussion.”
Ahead of the meeting, WCPO asked other council members their thoughts on the expansion.
Council member Seth Walsh said he was excited to see the ideas, but didn’t want to share more until he reviewed the details.
“It would take us quite a bit of time to get the funding together to be able to have the impact,” he said.
Council member Mark Jeffreys said it’s exciting to see citizens taking the initiative to bring ideas forward, but noted several questions would still need to be answered.
“We have to make sure that we have a sustainable funding model for the current streetcar,” he said. “Then, as we explore potential expansion, we also have to look at it in the context of Bus Rapid Transit and the investment we’re making in Metro.”
Project proponent John Schnieder said the Coalition for Transit and Sustainable Development hadn’t attempted to work out the dollars and cents of the project and was, instead, attempting to lay out what would be possible and most desirable if any project were to move forward.
“We’re not experts in that,” Schneider said. “The city has the ability to do that. We’re asking that if there’s a clear consensus on a route, on the next route, that the city gather the resources to do some preliminary planning as to what would be involved in building that route.”
After the presentation, everyone was asked to weigh in on the proposed routes through a survey and ranking system.
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