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06.01.2012
Railvolution!
Cincinnati plans for more streetcars while constructing its first route.
Courtesy City of Cincinnati

In his seventh State of the City address on April 10, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory talked about the streetcar the city had started building in February, introducing the subject with, “And you all know that I could not let you out of here tonight without talking about the streetcar.” Mallory linked the streetcar creation to a strategy to help the city thrive. He also laid out a vision for a much larger rail transit system.

Building the first line took persistence. Hamilton County voters rejected a proposed plan for improved and expanded transit in 2002. Then ballots in 2009 and 2011 tried to block the city from building streetcars. Both failed.

Part of the city’s marketing message for the rail network is that the streetcar system will attract new businesses. An economic development study the city commissioned found that property values would be greater and emissions and pollution reduced. The study also found savings in congestion and reductions in crashes when people choose to take a streetcar over their personal automobiles.

The city government is leading the planning and construction of the streetcar system, and Metro, the local transit agency, will operate it. The route will reach from downtown to Over-The-Rhine Historic District, making 18 stops in its roundtrip journey. The construction costs are estimated to be $99.5 million plus utility relocation. A fare price hasn’t been determined.

The April speech brought more specifics: Mallory announced that the city selected CAF USA to design and manufacture the trains and showed renderings of the proposed design. Attractive trains aren’t the only outcome of a good transit system. Mobility and connections are key, so Mallory described a second route in Uptown, for which the city is seeking $1.2 million in federal New Starts funds for a study.

The city’s vision doesn’t end with light rail. Mallory mentioned using light rail alongside two highways and commuter rail (faster trains covering longer distances) for other corridors. These efforts will require regional cooperation, said Meg Olberding, spokesperson in the city manager’s office. “The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments has long-range planning tools and would pull together our partners, including Hamilton County, Metro, and the state and federal Departments of Transportation.”

Though Ohio Governor John Kasich refused federal funds to plan for and construct high-speed rail lines in the state, Mallory will push forward: “I do not believe that we should give up on the idea of high-speed rail in this state.”

Steven Vance