Cincinnati Officials Kept In Dark On Streetcar Costs For Nearly A Year

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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City officials have failed to disclose for nearly a year that a potential expansion of the Cincinnati streetcar would require nearly $40 million just for utility relocation.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Monday that, “[t]he utility work needed to expand the Cincinnati streetcar route … would come at the price of nearly $40 million — more than double the cost to relocate gas and electric lines on the Downtown and Over-the-Rhine loop,” which is scheduled to open in September 2016. (RELATED: Milwaukee Streetcar Will Benefit Developers at Taxpayers’ Expense)

The $37.76 million estimate, which does not include the cost of constructing or operating the line, was produced by local electric utility Duke Energy at the city’s request last April, but was only made public after being obtained by the Enquirer.

It is unclear who requested the estimate, but elected officials are expressing surprise at its existence, and City Manager Harry Black has promised to investigate. (RELATED: Cincinnati Seeks to Recoup Losses from Development Loan for Failed Restaurant)

The article says the revelation “could be a setback for a group of streetcar supporters calling for city officials to start studying expanding the route to Uptown,” pointing out that the existing 3.6-mile loop through parts of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine has already suffered significant cost overruns.

The original streetcar plan was projected to cost $128 million, but even after the one-mile Uptown leg was abandoned, the expense has since ballooned to $148 million, depleting the contingency fund set aside for the project. (RELATED: A Streetcar Named Desire Taxpayer Dollars)

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who was elected in 2013 on a platform based largely on opposition to the Cincinnati Streetcar, told the Enquirer that, “having this information is very helpful,” because “This should lead all reasonable elected officials to say, ‘This is too much money,’ and everyone should cease and desist on this silly talk about expanding the streetcar.”

Ryan Messer, Community Council President of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, also said he is pleased that a written estimate exists, but for a very different reason. Messer told the Enquirer that he believes the cost estimates will come down after negotiations, and argued that, “This provides even more reason to do a feasibility study for the continuation of the first phase of the Cincinnati streetcar.”

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Peter Fricke