Duke, city officials reach impasse on utility relocation for streetcar

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Duke Energy officials say negotiations with the City of Cincinnati on relocating underground utilities for the streetcar project have come to halt.

Duke officials said Wednesday that there are two main concerns they believe the city has not addressed. One of the concerns includes worker safety. Duke believes there should be an 8-foot buffer between the streetcar and the utility lines.

"Would you want riders to be on the streetcar riding when we have gas pipes closer than eight feet?" Duke Energy spokesperson Johnna Reeder questioned. "There are stray current issues, there's electric issues."

"If there's really a safety issue involved in how we're proposing to go about construction, show the evidence of where the safety issue is," countered City Manager Milton Dohoney.

The second concern is the cost of relocating the utility lines, which Duke estimates to be at $18.7 million. Duke officials feel that amount should be considered as a project cost and not be picked up by Duke customers.

"We have an obligation to our customers to keep rates as low as possible," Johnna Reeder said. "We hope everyone will agree with us that the cost of the relocation of our infrastructure with the streetcar project are project costs and should be paid for by the streetcar budget."

Dohoney, however, argues Duke has some responsibility in picking up the tab.

"This is an old city with old infrastructure. It is going to have to be updated anyway," Dohoney argued. "It is not fair to say that the modernization of those assets should be the responsibility of this project."

Under previous negotiations, the city had only offered six million to help defray the cost.

"I may not be a mathematician but the two numbers don't add up," Reeder said.

Dohoney says they are not convinced the project requires the more than 18 million dollars Duke argues they need to complete the project.

"If the true cost is 18 prove it," Dohoney urged. "Show the verification of why it's 18."

When asked if Duke had provided any documentation to the city regarding their requests they alleged that they had in fact sent supporting paperwork.

"We've given data, we've given proof points as backup," Reeder said.

While Duke continues to maintain they need eight feet between the streetcar the city says their own engineers believe three feet is enough.

"At some respect we've had dueling engineers," Dohoney said. "Ours conclude one thing, theirs conclude something else."

He says the city has offered for Duke to be able to do work during the six hours the streetcar is not in operation every day so that safety concerns are alleviated. Duke officials, however, argue that is not an acceptable long-term solution.

Duke provided the media with a list of cities that require greater distances for utility lines. The city, however, says the references are like comparing apples and oranges. Dohoney says the modern Cincinnati Streetcar system would not necessarily require the same considerations.

Mayor Mark Mallory released a statement, saying:

It is unfortunate and disappointing that Duke Energy has decided to walk away from their commitment to be a good faith partner with the City.  The Streetcar is the new reality for Cincinnati and this project will move forward.  It is an transportation investment that will fuel the growth of our economy for years to come.  I am calling on Duke Energy to be reasonable and work with the City on a plan that will be best for both citizens and their customers.  In many of the cities that are developing streetcars or light rail, similar issues about the scope and cost of utility relocation have come up; however, they have never prevented the projects from moving forward.  These issues will be resolved one way or another, just as we have resolved previous issues facing the project.  The best thing for everyone involved is if Duke is a constructive part of that resolution.

Mayor Mallory is attending the streetcar summit in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, meeting with members of President Obama's administration to share streetcar development strategies.

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