The mayor of Cincinnati is claiming that supporters of a controversial transit project deliberately understated its costs in order to enhance its political appeal.
Mayor John Cranley, who was elected in 2013 on a platform based largely on opposition to the Cincinnati Streetcar, made the accusation on Thursday after a closed-door meeting to discuss the project’s contingency fund, which “is estimated at only $80,000 after it started at $9.7 million when construction began in 2013,” WCPO-TV reports.
“One of the things that we discovered in our meeting is that several things that have been spent out of the contingency are items that are absolutely essential,” Cranley said, suggesting that the project will either need more tax dollars or have to be reduced in scope.
Cranley attempted to kill the project shortly after taking office in 2013, but was defeated in a 5-4 City Council vote. Now, WCPO claims the revelation that the contingency fund is nearly bankrupt served as “a wakeup call for council member Kevin Flynn, who was the swing vote to continue the project.”
So far, though, Flynn has yet to reverse his position, saying, “I still think we can bring it in on time. We’re just going to have to—and I hate to use this word—micromanage a little bit more.” (RELATED: Cincinnati Seeks to Recoup Losses from Development Loan for Failed Restaurant)
Cranley seems to have reached a similar conclusion, saying, “My position is they should cut the scope of the project,” even though his oft-stated preference would be to eliminate it entirely.
Going forward, Cranley said, “The city manager is going to insist that the project leadership team figure out how to cut costs, to keep it under budget, or he’ll go with a new team.” (RELATED: Sticker Shock Continues for Denver Mass Transit Project)
On Tuesday, just one day before the under-funding was made public, the city council approved an operating agreement with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) that resolved (what had been) one of the primary outstanding disputes over the project.
Under the terms of the agreement, SORTA will handle day-to-day operations, while Cincinnati will provide funding to operate the streetcar, establish and collect fares, and ensure that the rails are kept clear from obstruction. (RELATED: Union Opposes Plan to Privatize Atlanta Public Transportation)
The city council’s five Democrats provided the votes to approve the agreement, which ensures that streetcar jobs will be filled by unionized public employees, while the two Republicans voted against it, having previously pushed for an agreement that would have allowed private companies to submit bids for the right to operate the streetcar.
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