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The following is an archived video story. The text content of that video story is available below for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available.

Mayor Rebuffs SORTA Offer

CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- Operators of the Metro Bus Service come up with a plan to jump start the Cincinnati streetcar project but the mayor stops it in its tracks.

More twists and turns Tuesday in the ongoing battle over the Cincinnati streetcar. There may be a proposal that could move the project forward.

SORTA, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, offered to cover the operating costs if the 133 million dollar project is completed. It sounded like a plan, considering Mayor John Cranley said he'd re-start construction on the project if someone could cover those costs. But nothing, in Cincinnati, is quite that simple.

SORTA's board voted Tuesday morning to come up with a plan to cover the costs and is willing to do it. But the mayor says they can't do it and guarantee that bus service wouldn't suffer. 

The 133 million dollar project has been shutdown for two weeks now but a skeleton crew is still pouring concrete to fill the holes already dug for about a half mile of track.

Last Thursday, Mayor John Cranley said he'd meet supporters halfway and restart the project if they could cover the nearly 4 million a year in project operating costs. Tuesday morning, the SORTA board voted to meet Cranley halfway.

"METRO and SORTA would work collectively with the community and business stakeholders in finding a way to fun operating costs whether it would be through financial contributions or sponsorships."

Crews say SORTA would use one million dollars in seed money from the Haile Foundation, grants, fares, advertising and sponsorships to cover the costs.

It sounded like a plan; but not to Cranley.

"To be clear that is woefully insufficient for us to move forward on the streetcar based on the principles we outlined last week."

Those principles included an $80 million guarantee to cover streetcar costs for 30 years.  SORTA provided four alternative funding plans to cover costs and Cranley openly mocked them.  He says SORTA depends on city money to run its bus service and the streetcar costs would pose a threat. 

"METRO has no financial wherewithal to cover the shortfall except to cut into bus service and that isn't something I'll support."

The SORTA board said they would not let the streetcar project have any negative impact on the metro bus system. They also said the move was needed to protect the $44 million hanging in the balance. They fear losing that could mean losing more federal money and truly losing face.

"We want to mitigate risk of future federal dollars for this region. Not only for the transit system but for the community as a whole.  And looking at us a community that can actually implement projects when given federal dollars."

Cranley may or may not have the votes on council to back him up. He was flanked by three of four committed to killing the project. If they are outnumbered when they vote Thursday on whether to restart construction, Cranley says he will use his veto power if necessary.

It doesn't appear there are six votes to override his veto.

Midnight Thursday is the deadline imposed by the Federal Transit Authority to move the project forward or lose that $44 million in federal grant money. It will be a busy few days at city hall. An auditor's analysis of shut down costs versus completion costs should be in the hands of council member's Wednesday morning.

The public will have a chance to speak at Wednesday's regularly scheduled council meeting. That's at 1:30p.m.

At 9a.m. Thursday morning, council's streetcar committee will meet and the full city council will convene for a special meeting Thursday afternoon at two.

Video HERE



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