Is Cincinnati's streetcar on the same track as abandoned subway?

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - As the future of the streetcar continues to be hotly debated, Cincinnati's unfinished subway system could be called one of the city's great failures.

So, could the streetcar be on the same track?

It's been years in the making, as the first rails of Cincinnati's streetcar system were put in place in October.

"Cincinnati really saw that it needed to build a streetcar to remain competitive with other cities like it," said John Deatrick, project executive for the streetcar.

Rewind more than 80 years ago to the 1920s.  Another major Cincinnati transit project was on the horizon, one that included a subway that would never run.

"It probably began with the city fathers wanting to move people easier through downtown Cincinnati," said Janice Forte, a volunteer with Heritage Programs.

Between World War I and the Great Depression, only about two miles of the 16-mile rapid transit loop were ever finished.  The only remnants left over, other than some of the tunnel underground, are this steel door on a median in Over-The-Rhine, and a tunnel along I-75 which is blocked off by a fence.

"We started the subway Rapid Transit System in about 1919.  It ceased in 1928.  It was a lot of people at work for a lot of years, and then it stops," said Forte.

The plan's future can be seen in question as early as 1923 in an article in the Cincinnati Post as part of a speech by future mayor Murray Seasongood.  In that article, Seasongood says, "What is to become of the Rapid Transit plan?  Ask anyone on the street and he will shrug his shoulders.  Ask the city officials.  They will not know."

"Murray Seasongood was absolutely against this subway, which was part of the Rapid Transit System," Forte told FOX19.

The subway's failure is spelled out in a book written by Cincinnati native, Jake Mecklenborg called Cincinnati's Incomplete Subway: The Complete History.  It's a failure he sees happening again to another project also designed to move thousands of people.

"The subway project was much larger than the streetcar project that we have underway right now.  The details of them are different, but the way that they're being killed is actually for the same reasons," said Mecklenborg.

But why?

A big election shakeup in city hall could be to blame back then.  Even more recent, just this month, city council got three new faces and a new leader of the city, mayor-elect John Cranley.

"We had a new group of Republicans that ousted the old group of Republicans.  Now we have a group of Democrats fighting against another group of Democrats in this last mayoral race," Mecklenborg told FOX19.

Janice Forte leads tours each year underground in the subway.  She knows the system inside and out, and the issues in building it.

Who was going to pay for it?  Who would maintain and operate it?  A lot of the same questions coming up once again.

"The similarities are extremely strong," said Forte.

Fast forward to today, the 21st Century and the city's biggest project right now.

"This is quite a bit different because of the different time we're dealing with," Deatrick told FOX19.

But, as long as the project is still on track, Deatrick said they'll continue to work.

"I'd prefer to finish the project.  I'd prefer to get it done on time within budget, no lost time accidents, continue the record we're on right now.  But, it may not happen," Deatrick added.

Truthfully, it may not happen.

If history repeats itself after more than 80 years, the streetcar is set up to be the next big transportation failure in the city of Cincinnati all because of a political shakeup.

How else are the projects different?

The subway was financed entirely by the city, starting with  $6 million bond issue.  The streetcar is funded in part by federal dollars and committed city money.

Weigh in: What are your thoughts? What do you see as some similarities/differences between the two projects? Sound off on FOX19's Facebook page

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