Change in politics means change in Ohio's plans for transportation

By Kimberly Holmes – bio | email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Just hours after the mid-term elections, it looks like the shift in power will mean a different direction for two major transportation projects in Ohio: the Cincinnati Streetcar and the 3C passenger rail project.

On Wednesday, Ohio Governor-Elect John Kasich told reporters he's putting the brakes on one.

The rail project is a plan to take more cars off the roads, while connecting Cincinnati to Columbus and Cleveland. However, right now, Ohio's new top man says the train will not leave the station.

"The passenger rail is not in Ohio's future," Kasich told reporters on Wednesday at a news conference.

Ohio's project was one of 13 selected nationwide. Ohio is slated to receive $400 million.

"Given that Kasich has made it very clear that the 3C rail project is gone, money will be given back to the federal government," said Cincinnati council member Leslie Ghiz.

It's unclear exactly what Kasich will do, but local rail advocates like Beau Tuke are furious. Tuke is the Southwest Regional Director for All Aboard Ohio.

"The election of John Kasich has potentially doomed the implementation of the 3C Corridor for now," Tuke emailed FOX19. "Unfortunately Mr Kasich continues even today to say 'Absolutely no' without any consideration of the facts, including extremely positive public feedback, positive ODOT & FRA reports, and the currently ongoing ODOT Go Ohio community workshops. To summarily denounce something with mostly positive feedback and community support is disheartening to hear from an elected official. The argument of cost is minimal, since the grant for capital startup has been given to Ohio ($400 million) and the estimated annual operating expenses ($17million) is a fractional percentage compared to some major highways & bridge projects on the table. If he denies it, he might as well write the check to another financially challenged state currently begging for the funds (Michigan, California, Illinois, etc) as the FRA plans to do so if the projected is slashed. We at All Aboard Ohio will continue to work and convince Mr Kasich and our state officials that this is a good viable project for our state."

Making matters worse, Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) spokesperson Scott Varner said the state has already spent some of the money; adding nearly $15-million is currently under contract.

Cincinnati council member Laurie Quinlivan said the switch in power won't affect the streetcar project. Cincinnati is waiting on a $35 million dollar grant from the state.

"Let's say worst case scenario, we don't get any more grant money," said Quinlivan. "We are 90-percent funded anyway so we have enough money that we could build the streetcar downtown. Maybe we don't have enough money to go uptown right now."

Cincinnati is currently competing against other projects statewide for that grant money.

"The {current} head of ODOT and the state loves our streetcar project, and we're pretty confident that we'll get some money from the state," Quinlivan said. "Now things have changed politically. {The head of ODOT} will likely be leaving."

Ghiz said that could mean that the city could be left footing the rest of the bill.

"My favorite thing around here to say is everybody loves to ask for forgiveness, but nobody asks permission," Ghiz said. "So they'll so, oh we're almost there! And it just really is disturbing."

The list of who is supposed to get the grant money from the state will be released in December. That means city leaders will find out before Kasich takes office.

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