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08.04.2010
Midwest Gets Transit Transfusion
Cities across the region and country lavished with nearly $300 million in federal funds
A rendering of the proposed Cincinnati line, a new six-mile line that will traverse the city.
Courtesy Cincinnati Streetcar Project

The familiar clang-clang of trolleys and rumbling of streetcars will soon be heard again in cities across the country, following the announcement of $293 million in Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) grant awards. More than 50 transportation projects located in 31 states won federal assistance though the FTA’s Urban Circulator Grant Program or the Bus Livability Grant Program, including large awards to projects in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago.

The funding is intended to help develop or enhance trolley, streetcar, and bus rapid transit systems, or to construct or renovate community transit hubs. “Our goals are to provide cleaner, safer, and more efficient ways to get around," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the grants.

“Streetcars are making a comeback because cities across America are recognizing that they can restore economic development downtown,” FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff added. “These streetcar and bus livability projects will not only create construction jobs now, they will aid our recovery by creating communities with the potential to be more prosperous and less congested.”

Cincinnati received $24.9 million for its Urban Circulator undertaking. The Cincinnati Streetcar Project will consist of a six-mile line at grade and will move passengers from the riverfront and the downtown central business district to the Over the Rhine neighborhood and the University of Cincinnati located uptown. The route will offer 18 stops and, by connecting uptown to downtown, create a link between Cincinnati’s two largest employment centers.

“There’s some tremendous potential along this line,” said Bradley Thomas, who runs Cincystreetcar.com, a group that has advocated for the line. “We haven’t had rail service in Cincinnati since April 29, 1951, and we’re bringing it back in 2013.”

“Along the first phase of our streetcar line, 48 percent of households are 0-car households, so you’ll have tremendous mobility benefits there,” Thomas said. “Additionally, you’ll have redevelopment opportunities in Over the Rhine, where there are hundreds of vacant buildings. This will allow you to repopulate Over the Rhine and preserve a lot of these wonderful historic structures.”

Similarly, the St. Louis Loop Trolley project won $24.9 million and will be a 2.2-mile fixed-track trolley that transports passengers from the thriving Loop neighborhood in University City to the Missouri History Museum located in Forest Park. The hybrid electric/battery powered trolley will offer nine stops, including a connection with the existing light rail MetroLink system, and could potentially bring commercial and residential redevelopment to interstitial neighborhoods.

Chicago won $35.6 in grants, $24.6 million of which will go toward the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project to provide two miles of bus priority lanes from Union Station to the Loop and Navy Pier. Also included in this undertaking are bus-shelter branding, updated information signals, bicycle lanes, and streetscape enhancements. 

The remaining $11 million will be employed in the Jeffery BRT Corridor project, which will connect more than 200,000 residents of Chicago’s southside to the central business district. Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council estimates that the introduction of a high-capacity BRT fleet may reduce travel times by as much as 30 percent compared to the current bus system.

Brian Newman