Monday, April 4, 2011

Winburn: Scrap streetcar, look into 'trolley' buses

Cincinnati City Councilmember Charlie Winburn wants the City to scrap the streetcar and replace it with Downtown 'trolley' buses, a system that could eventually expand to Western Hills, Sharonville, Blue Ash, and other suburban communities.

Winburn introduced a motion before Council asking City Manager Milton Dohoney to study the feasibility of implementing the Cincinnati Downtown Trolley, which would provide free rides between residential, employment, and entertainment centers.

He also wants Dohoney to work with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to determine if some of the funds allocated to the streetcar project could be used to purchase 15 buses, which would look like trolleys but, unlike true trolley buses, would not rely on overhead wires. The City would also work with the private sector, likely through the Cincinnati Business Committee, to secure operational funding.

Winburn thinks that the buses would create benefits similar to those brought by buses operated by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), such as a greater use of public transportation, a reduction in traffic congestion, improved air quality, a reduction in our demand for foreign oil, and greater connectivity to other City neighborhoods.

Key Cleveland business leaders and representatives from RTA would be invited to Cincinnati to brief City leaders as part of the study. RTA's 'trolley' buses carry more than 4,000 riders per day.

Loss of streetcar funding would leave hole

Winburn's plan comes at a time when the City faces the loss of nearly $52 million in streetcar funding through the ODOT Transportation Review Advisory Council's (TRAC) 2011-2015 Major New Program List.

Although the project scored at the top of the committee's ranking system, a TRAC working group last month recommended removing the funding as part of $98 million in suggested cuts.

The committee will take a final vote on the funding on April 12.

The City has identified more than $150 million in funding for the project, including the TRAC grants, a $25 million federal Urban Circulator Grant, $25 million in special tax assessments along the proposed route, $11 million from the sale of Blue Ash Airport property, $7 million from Duke Energy and private donors, $6 million in restricted City capital funds, and a $4 million Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) CMAQ grant.

If the City doesn't receive the money for the $128 million, 4.9-mile loop between Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Uptown, it could face a nearly $30 million hole – requiring the City to look at options such as eliminating the Uptown segment or decreasing the number of stops.

A proposed charter amendment that would prohibit the City from building the streetcar until December 31, 2020, spearheaded by a coalition including the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP, COAST, the Cincinnati Tea Party, the Hamilton County Green Party, and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, will likely be on the November ballot.

Environmental document released

An Environmental Assessment document for the Cincinnati streetcar project is now available for public comment.

Interested parties can view the document online; at Cincinnati City Hall, 801 Plum Street; at the Main, Corryville, West End, and Walnut Hills branches of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County; at the Bond Hill, Clifton, College Hill, Corryville, LeBlond, Lincoln, Mount Auburn, Oakley, Over-the-Rhine, and Price Hill recreation centers; at OKI, 720 E Pete Rose Way, Suite 420; at the Ohio Department of Transportation District 8 offices, 505 S S.R. 741, Lebanon; and at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, 602 Main Street, Suite 1100.

The City will hold public hearings on the document with project team members on April 13 and April 14, from 5 P.M.-8 P.M., at Cincinnati City Hall.

The 30-day public review and comment period closes on April 21.

Written comments can be sent to Environmental Manager, Streetcar Consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff; 312 Elm Street, Suite 2500; Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Previous reading on BC:
Streetcar stops announced, advocacy continues (2/21/11)
Contract expiration, FTA require new streetcar bids (1/17/11)
$25M federal grant means streetcar can proceed (7/12/10)
Cincinnati approves $64M in streetcar bonds (5/13/10)
Streetcar tentatively awarded $15M, other projects recommend (3/22/10)