Cincinnati streetcar attack could block highway, railroad, bus, ferryboat projects


Ken Prendergast, All Aboard Ohio, 216-288-4883
Jack Shaner, Ohio Environmental Council, 614-446-1693

A Cincinnati congressman today hailed an over-reach of the federal government’s power as he attempts to snuff out federal funding for the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-1, Cincinnati) and many of his House of Representatives colleagues flexed their federal muscle to bully the locally-driven, urban economic development project. By voice vote, the House voted June 27 to adopt Rep. Chabot’s measure to prohibit the use of any new federal surface transportation funds for a Cincinnati streetcar.

The amendment to House Resolution 5972 (the 2013 appropriations bill funding the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies) says: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to design, construct, or operate a fixed guideway project located in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

According to Title 49, Sec. 5302 of the U.S. Code, a  “fixed guideway” is an exclusive or controlled right-of-way used in whole or in part for transportation. It is a mass transportation facility–

(A) using and occupying a separate right of way or rail for the exclusive use of mass transportation and other high occupancy vehicles; or

(B) using a fixed catenary system (of overhead electric wires) and a right of way usable by other forms of transportation.

According to the Federal Transit Administration, the term includes more than just railroads, streetcars or other rail transit, but high-occupancy vehicle lanes on highways, trolleybuses, buses on dedicated rights of way, and even ferry boats.

The amendment is now part of HR5972. It will go to the Senate where, with your input to Ohio’s two senators, it will hopefully be removed. Then the House and Senate will need to resolve the Chabot amendment and other differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill.

Rep. Chabot wants to stymie the $95 million streetcar project, even though construction is underway and even though Cincinnati voters have twice given it their approval to proceed. Cincinnati voters in 2009 and 2011 voted to reject a pair of ballot issues that threatened to mico-manage the actions of local elected officials and effectively kill the streetcar.

Local officials also competed for and won a federal urban circulator grant in competition with other cities through a fair and professional administrative-level evaluation and exercise of due process. That grant will not be affected by the Chabot amendment.

If you do not like Chabot’s “inverted earmark” that takes a broad, shotgun approach at blocking multi-modal transportation funding from Cincinnati in federal fiscal year 2013, then please write to your senators. Both of them. Tell Sens. Brown and Portman that the language Chabot chose to use (as defined by Title 49 Sec. 5302 of the U.S. Code) blocks federal funding for certain types of investments in highways, railroads, buses, ferryboats and others.

Contact U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and urge them to reject the amendment to HR5972. Constituents also are encouraged to contact Rep. Chabot to ask why he, an alleged proponent of reducing the influence of government in people’s lives, would take such a contradictory action.

“The Chabot amendment will not stop the streetcar,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “It’s an election-year move to score rhetorical points with the far-right while undermining his district’s economic competitiveness. The amendment would relinquish federal funds to other cities and states that do not have such burdensome federal governmental restrictions on their transportation systems. This does not free up federal funds for worthwhile yet heavily subsidized highway projects in the region which are not eligible for the same pots of federal money as the Cincinnati Streetcar.”

“This streetcar is a magnet that will bring people, investment and improved transportation infrastructure back to Cincinnati’s urban core—all while growing jobs, saving energy and cutting pollution,” said Jack Shaner, deputy director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “At the same moment that Cincinnati’s leadership wants to move the city forward, its congressman wants to hold it back. It’s a real shame that some of our nation’s leaders want to reach out and derail progress in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

A similar over-reach of the federal government’s power was attempted in Houston in the 1990s by then-U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). (DeLay later was imprisoned for offenses unrelated to transportation issues.) At the urging of wealthy interests, DeLay twice blocked federal funds from being spent on that city’s planned light-rail system. Relying on local funding, the City of Houston eventually persevered, building the first 7.5-mile leg of a successful rail system which today carries nearly 40,000 riders per weekday—far above projections. Today, 15 miles of additional rail lines are under construction and another 16 miles are in advanced planning using federal funds (SOURCE).

All Aboard Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Council encourage Cincinnati’s courageous Mayor Mark Mallory, supporters on the Cincinnati City Council, and Cincinnati’s thousands of streetcar supporters to keep fighting.

Compact, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods improve access to jobs, shopping, education and health care and reduce driving, pollution and poverty. And fixed-guideway transit like the Cincinnati Streetcar can influence land use density and placemaking decisions by providing real estate developers with the confidence of where to invest for the long term. This may explain why the streetcar project has been the subject of venomous opposition, as the project promises to help rejuvenate Cincinnati’s urban core while eroding the anti-urban, exclusionary status quo in which regressive voices are so deeply invested.


2 Comments to "Cincinnati streetcar attack could block highway, railroad, bus, ferryboat projects"

  1. June 28, 2012 - 9:25 PM | Permalink

    I am amazed that Chabot would deny funding for the street car. His anti-public transportation bias runs wide and deep. Cincinnati desperately needs public transportation and a coordinated plan of bus, train, tram as it exists in other cities. The value to investors is one thing, providing services to the poor, and to the working community is far more important.

  2. July 2, 2012 - 2:22 PM | Permalink

    I talked to a transport wonk who cleared this up for me, I wrote it up on my blog. people are confusing a transport bill and an appropriations bill.

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