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Streetcar Supports and Opponents Pack Council Chambers
CINCINNATI (Angenette Levy) -- More than 100 people signed up to speak to city council Wednesday about their support for or opposition to the Cincinnati Streetcar as an independent study of the costs to cancel the project was released.
The accounting firm KPMG studied the cost of completing the streetcar versus the cost of cancellation. The study found the cost to cancel ranges from $50 million to $80 million - including the $34 million already spent.
The cost to complete the streetcar ranges from $104 million to $105 million. The annual operating costs excluding fares was approximately $2 million which gave Vice Mayor David Mann a push toward backing the streetcar.
"$2 million is real money. But if they do anything at all the city's exposure gets to be a pretty small number and that cannot be a reason not to go forward," Mann said.
The annual operating costs have been a sticking point for council member Kevin Flynn. He said he will vote "yes" on the streetcar if private funds cover operating costs. Flynn said he's optimistic and conversations are ongoing with people and organizations that could help cover those costs but he would not elaborate for fear he might jeopardize negotiations. Flynn could be a critical vote. Six votes are needed to override a veto by the mayor.
"If we can cover the operating costs without hitting the city's budget, I'm in," Flynn said.
Some council members looked at the study as a validation of their claims that the city will benefit from completing the streetcar and the city has spent too much to turn back. Mayor John Cranley said he believes the city could cancel the project and come out on the lower end of the estimated cost to cancel. Mayor Cranley believes cancellation could save $100 million.
"I do not believe it is financially prudent to proceed," Mayor Cranley said in a statement. He added, "If the business community guarantees the operations in the next 24 hours then that's a different story. I don't think it's going to happen but barring that I intend to veto it."
Throngs of streetcar supporters and detractors filled city council chambers to speak about the project. Opponents said they want the city to spend money on police, firefighters and public works projects.
"This is just nothing but an amusement park ride," said Northside resident Sharon Koehler. While streetcar champion and rail advocate John Schneider criticized the city's independent study because it did not include factors such as the return on investment he believes the streetcar will produce. It also didn't include the cost of potential litigation if the streetcar is canceled.
"The benefits of this project are not zero," Schneider said.
Several iron workers who were building the streetcar line until the project was delayed spoke to council. They could be laid off. Several work for Rod Techs, an African-American owned company.
"I have to tell my kids I was gonna get you that bike. Today I can't. Maybe the week after Christmas when my unemployment starts I can get you that bike," Curtis Hollywood told city council.
Jim Kiefer, a business owner from Price Hill, told council he wants them to kill the streetcar.
"The neighborhoods are really in terrible shape. We need something done out there not a funny little car to ride down," Kiefer said.
The deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration to move forward with the project is nearing. Construction must be restarted by midnight Thursday or the FTA will pull $45 million in funding. No amount of talking by supporters will stop that.
"Cincinnati is going to be known not as the Queen City but the Quit City," Curtis Hollywood said.
The authors of the streetcar study will be at the streetcar committee meeting Thursday morning at 9 a.m. to answer questions from council members. A special session of council will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. when a vote will be taken.