What you may not know about the anti-streetcar petition

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Just nine days left before we find out whether Cincinnati's streetcar project will end up in the hands of voters in November.

Several groups are involved in a petition drive to try and get enough valid signatures. Currently the City is moving ahead with the project, after securing the funding needed for the plan.

The streetcar opponents have until August 10th to get enough signatures on the ballot.

Here is the streetcar plan: The City would use nearly one hundred million dollars of existing money, build a route that will go from Findlay Market to Fountain Square.

And then try and find an additional nine million dollars to extend the streetcar line from Fountain Square to The Banks, which was part of the original plan before the State yanked its funding from the project.

Those for it say the first phase of the project will create more than 300 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs.

The investment will lead to 1.4 billion dollars in economic activity, and that activity will lead to thousands of new residents in the urban core.

On the flip side, those against the project argue there's no guarantee the streetcars will be as effective here as in other cities and countries.

That the City should first spend money repairing streets and helping neighborhood business districts, also that the City is spending a lot of money to benefit very few people.

"The overwhelming majority of the people do not want this streetcar," said Mary Kuhl, with the group Westwood Concerned. They're collecting signatures until August 10th, trying to get a referendum put on the ballot, to permanently derail the project.

"I would be curious to know if the people who were signing it, understood what they were signing," said local businessman Mark Schmidt, of Blue Chip Pavement Maintenance. He is also with the group Cincinnatians For Progress. Schmidt said the referendum has the unexpected potential of a lot of consequences.

"There's four sections, which identifies very clearly, that it's a prohibition against any money on the design, engineering, construction or operation of a streetcar system," Schmidt said.

And the worst part Schmidt pointed-out, is that this would be a ten-year prohibition.

"A referendum is a one-size fits all abolishment of the deliberative representative process that is our government," he said. And that the language of the proposed change, has far-reaching consequences. It's not just about opposing the streetcar.

"We have a number of businesses that are currently using rail," Schmidt said. "We have a number of regional projects that would engage and involve rail."

So, any rail-related funding, rail-related engineering and planning, would all would stop.

And Schmidt said, would negatively impact rail-related businesses operating right now.

"There's a diner that travels up and down an existing rail in the city of Cincinnati that could be affected by this. the Eastern Corridor project that relies on a rail component," he said. "The I-75 reconstruction through the heart of Cincinnati allows for right of way for light rail, that would be off the table."

"Every time I hear a County Commissioner or anybody from the County talk about the stadium," Kuhl said. "What I hear is the streetcar and how that's the ongoing costs are bankrupting this County with that stadium debacle, that streetcar is going to bankrupt the City."

"I think that people are frustrated," Schmidt said. "I think that the economy really has people on-tilt and I think that this is an effort to try to turn the spending faucet off."

But Schmidt adds, handcuffing the City's Planning Commission and engineers from engaging in discussions is not the answer.

"The casino that's going in, those private parties have engaged the City in discussion about putting a rail spur to and from the streetcar rail into their facility," Schmidt said. "That would stop them in their tracks, pardon the pun, but it would stop them from doing that."

Schmidt said, for the record, Cincinnatians For Progress supports the streetcar.

If the streetcar issue really does go to a referendum and passes, Schmidt said it would be another ten years before we could take another referendum and vote to undo it, not to mention the time and money wasted with legal challenges, which will likely follow.

As both sides wait to see if there will be enough valid signatures to bring the issue to voters, the streetcar project is moving forward.

The City needs to work with Duke Energy and other groups to relocate utilities along the route and it needs to buy the rail and streetcars.

You can read more about Cincinnatians For Progress and their side of the story by clicking on this link:  www.cincinnatiansforprogress.com

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