Feds to Cincinnati: Resume Streetcar or Forfeit $40 Million

Hows does a politician justify spurning millions in federal grants out of supposed concern for the city’s budget?

John Cranley, Cincinnati’s new mayor, handled that contradiction by telling voters there was some chance that if the city cancelled its federally-funded streetcar project, the money could be used for other things, like rebuilding an interchange.

Streetcar supporters held a press conference yesterday marking the beginning of a signature drive they hope will overturn City Council's decision to pause the Cincinnati streetcar. Image: ##http://www.urbancincy.com/2013/12/the-plot-continues-to-thicken-for-cincinnatis-133m-streetcar-project/## Urban Cincy##

Streetcar supporters held a press conference yesterday marking the beginning of a signature drive they hope will overturn the City Council’s decision to pause the Cincinnati streetcar. Image: Urban Cincy

It was always a dubious claim, and the Federal Transit Administration just confirmed that Cranley will not be able to use the unspent portion of the $45 million federal grant on whatever he wants. A letter FTA chief Peter Rogoff sent to Cranley this week demanded “unequivocal assurances” by December 19 that the city will proceed with the project under the “FTA-approved” timeline, or the FTA will “immediately terminate all of its grant obligations for the project and initiate a debt collection action to recover money owed.”

The big question is whether an independent audit will show that halting the project will cost the city of Cincinnati more than continuing it would. John Yung at Urban Cincy says Rogoff’s letter will compel quick action on that front:

Strong words. It is no wonder Mayor Cranley jumped out in front of the media early on Facebook Friday morning to spin the letter as a positive development for his administration.

But what it also means is that the City of Cincinnati must complete its third financial audit of the project, with KPMG, no later than that date and should make a decision FTA finds satisfactory in order to avoid the loss of $40 million from the Federal government and debt collection on another $5 million of Federal money already spent.

The other immediate question is whether a majority of the City Council will be persuaded to resume streetcar construction. The mayor’s refusal to shift his position means that picking up the needed votes in the council will be harder:

Mayor Cranley has gone on the record and stated that he would potentially veto any majority vote by City Council to restart construction and complete the project. Such a move would require the Charter amendment or a 6-3 super majority vote of City Council to override the mayor’s veto.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland says that what started as a student project could soon become an official protected bike lane in the city of Eugene. PubliCola explains why Seattle advocates are so disheartened about the transportation bill put forward by Washington lawmakers. And The City Fix offers four ways bus rapid transit helps urban communities.