Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Committee approves $17.4M for streetcar, triggers $5M in federal funds

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee voted 5-4 yesterday to approve an additional $17.4 million for the $133 million streetcar project, which will trigger an additional $5 million investment from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The $17.4 million will come from a mixture of bonds, funds set aside for Music Hall renovations, and unspent money from casino-area infrastructure improvements, specifically:
  • $5.4 million from delaying the City's contribution to the Music Hall renovation until 2016;
  • $4.6 million in bond revenue, which will be backed by revenue from the City's income tax;
  • $4 million from unspent traffic, utility, and tree projects surrounding Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati;
  • $2.5 million set aside to issue bonds for streetscape projects surrounding the casino, which was never spent;
  • $500,000 from the Greater Cincinnati Water Works for water main relocation and replacement; and
  • $400,000 from a 2011 project fund to replace traffic signals.
The $5 million in federal funding was conditional upon the approval of the additional $17.4 million, according to a June 19 letter to Mayor Mark Mallory from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, which was made public last Friday.

Other conditions included a requirement to construct the full scope of the project without additional cost saving measures; the restoration of screens or walls to shield the power substations from public view, as requested by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office; and the restoration of the passenger information system, which was eliminated as a cost saving measure.

"The DOT continues to support your bold vision for economic development and enhanced transportation choices for the city of Cincinnati, and we believe that this project is a significant component of that vision," LaHood wrote.

There were consequences, should the project not move forward.

"In addition, absent the satisfactory deployment of this project, DOT will be required to de-obligate both the existing $10.9 million TIGER grant and the $25 million in Urban Circulator program funds," LaHood wrote.

The $4 million in CMAQ funding would remain available for other regional projects, he said.

More accountability requested

Earlier in the day, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter, drafted a motion calling for more accountability, transparency, and clarity in the project's development.

On February 14, Qualls sent a memo to City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. warning that, while Council was generally supportive of the project, it had not given City administration a "blank check".

That was six days after the City opened bids for the installation of tracks, power system, maintenance and operations facility, station stops, and water and sewer utility location for the 3.6 mile loop between The Banks and Findlay Market.

The three bids ranged from between $70.9 million and $87.5 million, all well above the $44.6 million budgeted for the work.

"While I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a 'reboot' on the project to instill public confidence in its management," she said in a statement.

The motion directs the City administration to provide Council with performance measures, an updated timeline, an analysis of project staffing, and operating plan, and a plan for funding the Uptown connection and circulator. Monthly, detailed progress reports would be provided to the Budget and Finance Committee and also would be made available to the public.

The City is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager for The Banks, to head the streetcar project.

"That was a critical first step, but only a first step," Qualls said.

Qualls said that it's been the adherence to a "bold vision" for the City that's led to such progress as The Banks, Smale Riverfront Park, and investments in the neighborhoods, and that the streetcar's projected 3-to-1 return on investment is a continuation of that vision.

With the motion's measures in place, Qualls said that she now feels comfortable approving the additional funding.

"We cannot quit now, just as Cincinnati is becoming the growing, thriving 21st century city we know it must be," she said. "This is our time to take a giant step forward instead of limping backward."

The full council must vote on the expenditure, which it will at its meeting on Wednesday at 2 P.M.

If approved, the will continue negotiations with the joint venture of Messer Construction, Prus Construction, and Delta Railroad Construction, Inc., the lowest of the three bidders from February.

Previous reading on BC:
Qualls: Streetcar bids raise 'serious concerns' (2/15/13)
City and Duke agree to court; Utility relocation to begin soon (2/4/13)
Committee approvals keep streetcar on track (9/24/12)
Consultant sought to work with streetcar manufacturer (9/10/12)
Blue Ash considering restructuring of airport deal (8/6/12)