Vote will keep streetcar project moving toward 2015 operating date

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Dozens of citizens showed up at City Hall on Monday to show support or opposition to the Cincinnati streetcar project.

One of the most polarizing issues in the city of Cincinnati is back in front of City Council. On Monday, the Council's Budget and Finance Committee voted to allocate an additional $15 million for the project. The money will go toward moving utilities along the route, temporarily ending a stalemate with Duke Energy over who will pay for that expense. The money comes from the city's $37 million sale of the Blue Ash Airport. Monday's vote will keep the project moving along toward its 2015 operating date.

On the flip side, the $15 million dollars was supposed to go toward neighborhood projects, although those projects were never determined. More than 40 Cincinnati residents made their voices heard at Monday's meeting. With almost equally split support for and against the Cincinnati streetcar, the announcement to restructure funds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport has fueled the debate even further.

Cincinnati City Council member Charlie Winburn encouraged citizens to come to City Hall on Monday in opposition to what he calls, "the $100 million government waste project called the downtown streetcar."

Winburn says council is attempting to push through and pass a $29 million streetcar payment without a series of public hearings.  He is calling on the Mayor and City Council to allocate the funds for economic neighborhood development, rather than a project that benefits the downtown area only.

Winburn says that it is the Mayor and Council member's jobs to fight aggressively to put Cincinnatians back to work, but that the streetcar is not the solution.

Supporters of the streetcar say it will create jobs and is a way to link Cincinnati's neighborhoods.

Dozens of citizens made their views known on Monday morning. Residents were given two minutes to share their thoughts, and the public hearing portion of the meeting lasted around two hours.

"Have you been in our neighborhoods? They are hurting," Reverend Dock Fisher boldly stated.
"And you tell them to wait. For a streetcar? That just don't make any sense to me."

Rev. Fisher wants to see the money from Blue Ash go to the 52 Cincinnati neighborhoods it was promised to. "We can't wait no more," Rev. Fisher said. "We want you to keep your promise. You promised you would get the money and now you want to do the moon walk and back up."

Conversely, Noel Prows says that using the $15 million to push the streetcar project forward will bring more people to the Cincinnati neighborhoods along the planned streetcar route.

"One of my friends is moved from Batavia, Ohio with his wife and 6-year-old daughter to the corner of Twelfth and Vine, which is quite a big jump," Prows explained. "That would be unheard of a few years ago. And he specifically moved here because he knew the streetcar was happening."

One business owner also spoke at Monday's meeting, saying he chose the new location because of the expected streetcar traffic.

"Buses, routes change," Prows said. "The rail doesn't."

The ordinances on Monday were passed with a 6-3 vote, and the full council will vote on Wednesday.

Although the city is spending $15 million of its own money to keep the project moving, it still may try in court to get Duke Energy to pay them back.

City leaders say if that happens, that $15 million would go to the neighborhoods.

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