Monday, February 21, 2011

Streetcar stops announced, advocacy continues

The 21 stop locations for the $128 million first phase of Cincinnati's 4.9-mile streetcar route have been announced.

A map released by the City shows the route utilizing Main and Walnut streets south of Central Parkway and Elm and Race streets north of Central Parkway, with a bi-directional spur climbing the Vine Street hill to an area near University Plaza in Corryville.

The team of engineers, planners, and City staff – as well as Metro staff and local business owners – looked at spacing the stops two to three blocks apart for greater accessibility, minimizing the number of lane changes required, and connecting major points of interest.

"This has been a very carefully considered process so that we maximize the streetcar's value in delivering people to businesses along the route," said project manager Chris Eilerman. "After all, it is access to the 6,000 people per day riding the streetcar that will help draw new businesses, residents and storefronts to the route so the stops have to work now and with future growth in mind."

Specifically, the stops include: 275 Freedom Way*; 491, 601, 801, and 1001 Main Street; 12th and Main*; 12 E 12th Street; 1334, 1534, 1724, and 1916 Elm Street; 1809, 1534, and 1202 Race Street; 65 E Central Parkway; 899, 701, 427, and 251 Walnut Street; Vine Street, near Rothenberg School*; and Vine Street at University Plaza*.

Streetcar stop shelter designs are still under development by DNK Architects. City staff and engineers from Parsons Brinckerhoff are currently visiting locations along the route to evaluate pole locations for the streetcar's electrical system.

Still advocating

Last week, Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney traveled to Washington, DC to lobby for continuing federal aid for the project.

The two met with Vice President Joe Biden and shared details of the project as part of the Community Streetcar Coalition's Streetcar Summit, which drew representatives of cities and municipal governments, private sector companies and transit agencies together to discuss federal funding opportunities and sustainable housing development.

The City has identified more than $150 million in funding for the project, including $50 million in Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) 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 CMAQ grant.

The City has received $1.8 million in additional funding from the State of Ohio to plan future extensions of the line, and $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for supportive zoning initiatives.

"The Federal Government is enthusiastic about our streetcar project," Mallory said in a media release. "They know that public transportation projects like streetcars lead to economic growth in cities. For every dollar that we spend on our streetcar system, we will see a three dollar return on our investment in the form of jobs, economic activity, and increased City revenue."

On a statewide level, ODOT is working on a comprehensive streetcar policy, studying state and national data to determine how effectively they promote economic development and job creation.

That policy should be made public within the next two months.

Hurdles remain

Although Federal Transit Administration approval to commence construction could come as soon as next month, a couple of hurdles remain.

The $50 million in approved ODOT Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) funding could be lost due to the state's $8 billion-plus budget shortfall. Earlier this month, Governor Kasich's administration cut a three-year, $150 million pledge to the state's public transit agencies by $70 million.

The TRAC panel will announce its 2011-2015 Major New Program List in mid-March. In December, the panel preliminary approved $35 million in grants by an 8-0 vote, ranking the project as the highest-scoring of all submitted transportation projects.

The project could come up for a public vote this November, as well.

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 began gathering signatures in January on a charter amendment that would keep the City from spending money to build or operate a streetcar system through the year 2020.

The coalition also spearheaded a letter-writing campaign during the project's public comment period, asking Kasich and ODOT Director Jerry Wray to kill all state funding.

*Exact location address to be determined

Previous reading on BC:
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)
CFP celebrates, plans to continue (12/14/09)