Monday, July 12, 2010

$25M federal grant means streetcar can proceed

The City of Cincinnati says that it can begin construction on its streetcar project following the approval of a $25 million federal Urban Circulator grant last Thursday.

The funding leaves the project just $13.5 million short of the $128 million needed to build the loop through Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, with a connection to the Uptown neighborhoods.

But it also means that the City can go ahead with the issuance of nearly $64 million in economic development bonds, which City Council approved in May. The bonds may be issued this summer.

Construction could start this fall with utility relocation along the line, and the first cars could be rolling by spring 2013.

Leadership brings reward

In a media release, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told him that the City received the money because of the leadership it showed in pursuing funding.

Sixty-five cities applied for Urban Circulator funding, and only four other cities – Charlotte, Chicago, Ft. Worth and St. Louis – received the maximum streetcar grant as part of the $130 million awarded. An additional $163 million was awarded to 47 additional projects through the Bus and Bus Livability Program.

"This is great news for Cincinnati," Mallory said. "Having the federal government come in as a partner on our streetcar shows that we have one of the best plans in the country. This is why it is important to go out and engage decision makers directly."

"Mayor Mark Mallory and the Cincinnati City Council realize that streetcars are a great engine to improve livability and drive economic development in Cincinnati's downtown," LaHood said. "Cincinnati's residents and visitors don't want to wrestle for scarce parking spaces; they don't want to fight roadway congestion. They want to get to jobs, services, and retail stores without a hassle."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who wrote a letter of support for Cincinnati's application last February, was in town to tour Cincinnati Riverfront Park, which is being built at the southern end of the proposed line.

"By better linking Cincinnati's neighborhoods we can create jobs and fuel further investment to help set southwest Ohio on a path towards long-term economic growth," Brown said. "Increasing transportation options is good for business and good for our cities. This investment in transit infrastructure will create more transportation options for people who work downtown and encourage people across our state to visit all that Cincinnati has to offer."

The City currently is engaged in environmental assessments and operations planning both in the Downtown and Over-the-Rhine circulator areas, and is meeting with stakeholders in the Uptown neighborhoods to discuss which route the streetcar will take to climb the hill, said City Manager Milton Dohoney.

"The support for this project coupled with waterfront development, casino and other development projects proves that Cincinnati is in a growth mode," he said. "We are very pleased about today's announcement."

Further funding

To date, streetcar funding sources include $64 million in City capital, $25 million in Urban Circulator grants, a $15 Ohio Department of Transportation TRAC grant, $6.5 million from the sale of streetlights to Duke Energy, and a $4 million Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments CMAQ grant.

Additional state TRAC grants and federal TIGER II funds could become available later this year. TIGER II grants will not be awarded until at least September 15, and a draft list of TRAC awardees is not expected until December.

The Urban Circulator and Bus and Bus Livability grant programs are part of the Obama Administration's Livability Initiative, a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Communities around the US have been enthusiastic partners, looking for opportunities to advance good projects that have solid ridership expectations, that create opportunities for economic development, that have demonstrable environmental benefits, and that increase access for transit-dependent people," LaHood said. "That's a sign that America is ready for better connectivity, more transportation choices, and greater livability."

Images courtesy of Brad Thomas, CincyStreetcar blog.

Previous reading on BC:
Cincinnati approves $64M in streetcar bonds (5/13/10)
Streetcar tentatively awarded $15M, other projects recommend (3/22/10)
CFP celebrates, plans to continue (12/14/09)
Port study would examine impacts of fourth Mill Creek rail main (9/30/09)
Ballot language requiring rail vote passes out of committee (9/2/09)