Economics

Clang, Clang, Clang, Goes The Trolley or, What Part of "We Are Out of Money" Don't You Understand?

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I've noted in the past the progress (read: regress) of Cincinnati's push for a streetcar line to revivify a city that is not simply shedding people like an Alaskan husky [sheds fur] on a summer's day but is broker than broke. Indeed, the Queen City is flat-ass busted to the tune of a $50 million budget deficit and a school system that is cutting its budget by $21 million.

In shoveling scarce funds to projects that are useless at best and catatsrophic at worst, Cincy is, alas, a model for virtually every other municipality in the country, maybe the world. Phase One of the Great Streetcar Revival plan is upon the place that drunken statesman Winston Churchill once mumbled was "among America's most beautiful inland cities," a $128 million boondoggle that will surely double or triple in price as the years of construction wear on. So read on, MacDuff:

In a series of 5-3 votes mirroring the action of council's budget committee earlier this week, council gave city administrators approval to proceed with $44 million in grants and $64 million in bonds that will finance most of the Downtown-to-Uptown streetcar line's $128 million first phase.

Those votes, city administrators said afterward, could be the final ones needed from the council before about 2½ years of construction begins, probably late this fall….

The only discouraging words about the streetcar project Wednesday came from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who merely noted: "We're spending a whole lot of money today on the streetcar."

What did you do during the Great Recession, Daddy? I made a series of 5-3 votes to flush tax dollars down the toilet, son, even though city residents opposed the streetcar plan by a whopping 2-to-1 margin.

More here.

Wake up, America, and especially pols at all levels of malfeasance: We Are Out of Money.

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    1. Monorail!

      1. donuts…mmmmm is there anything they can’t do?

        1. Batman’s a scientist.

  1. I have a simple rule. Unless Leonard Nimoy is directly involved, I always vote against rail proposals.

  2. Like the war in Afghanistan, these things are easy to start but almost impossible to stop. Nobody will ever admit that he was wrong. Pass it along to the next guy and hope for the best.

  3. Will they even have the money to run this damn thing?

    1. yeah, down hill, once.

  4. Were you sent here by the devil?

  5. Remember the song that was a hit 40 years ago, “Mill Valley, California,” sung by school kids? Well, Mill Valley is still pretty cute. My hometown, Cincinnati, on the other hand, keeps slip-slidin’ away. This trolley is supposed to link the ugly architecture of the Freedom Museum by the river to the ugly architecture of the Univ of Cincinnati. It will take the scenic route through the most crime-ridden slums. How could this thing fail?

    1. “Remember the song that was a hit 40 years ago, “Mill Valley, California,””

      No.

      1. Someone needs a lesson on rhetorical questions, don’t they?

        1. Someone needs a lesson in generation gap.

  6. The ring came off my pudding can.

    1. Take my pen knife, my good man.

  7. A street car system is exactly what this city needs. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met who left Cincy, only to tell me that a street car system would have changed their minds. Businesses will flock to this city so they can help support the street car system with their tax money.

    1. Thats the spirit!

  8. Why did I read the title as “Wu tang clan goes the trolley?”

    1. Hopelessly hip?

  9. Huskies shed people? That’s something I’d like to see. BTW when you’re in Cincinnati you’re really in Kentucky.

    1. +1

    2. Everything south of Columbus is Kentucky…

      1. Every thing south of Broad Street…

        1. Fools! Everyone knows the expression is “South of 70…except for that part of German Village, anyway”.

  10. Politicians have train fetishes. That is the only explanation that I can muster. We have a trolley coming to Milwaukee as well. I have done my best to estimate how much it will cost per rider here:

    http://hesgotallkindsoftime.bl…..sfire.html

    1. Stop making sense. Someone’s head is going to explode

    2. DD Driver, if you were a journalist I would read your articles regularly. I hope your voice finds a bigger audience.

  11. “I’ve noted in the past the progress (read: regress) of Cincinnati’s push for a streetcar line to revivify a city that is not simply shedding people like an Alaskan husky on a summer’s day”

    Since when do dogs shed people?

    1. Damn you WKRP!

      1. Loni Anderson. (Homer drool)

  12. “What about us brain dead slobs?”

    1. “You’ll be voting 5-3”

  13. Kinda scary when you think about it.

    Lou
    http://www.remain-anonymous.at.tc

    1. Well then, let’s not do that.

  14. The only light rail system I’ve seen that’s been useful is Dallas’s, which goes between suburbs and downtown, and has stations with tons of parking. But Dallas is also a growing city with lots of company headquarters and jobs. The system wouldn’t be useful without those jobs.

    1. But this legislation will save or create many new jobs!!

    2. I would argue that Los Anegeles’ (which is combined with a heavy rail subway and a commuter train system) makes sense as well, which is why they are pushing to expand it.

      Of course, no rail system is profitable, but then again neither are streets.

    3. Also, in Houston, it’s profitable for private companies to drive buses from the major distant suburbs to downtown and other business districts. Meanwhile, METRO adds more to congestion than it takes away, I’m pretty sure.

  15. Wow, coincidence here: the other Queen City, Charlotte, NC, is doing the exact same thing. Just accepted a $25 million grant from the feds, and are expected to spend another couple hundred mill on the total project over the next few years.

    Of course, Charlotte is a relatively wealthy banking town and is not in the same dire straights as Cincy is.

    http://www.charlotteobserver.c…..swers.html

  16. Wow, there actually are municipal government dumber than Seattle’s…

  17. MONOOOO…D’OH!

  18. “In a series of 5-3 votes mirroring the action of council’s budget committee earlier this week, council gave city administrators approval to proceed with $44 million in grants and $64 million in bonds that will finance most of the Downtown-to-Uptown streetcar line’s $128 million first phase.”

    If you look at the feasibility study pdf that is accessible at the cited newspaper webpage, you will see that the proposed trolley serves a “core area” of 2 square miles (two adjoining 1/4-mile wide strips of roughly 8 miles in length altogether). Personal Rapid Transit, which had not yet been shown to work via a real-world system when it was originally considered for Cincinnati’s transit problems (here: http://www.skyloop.org/life-with-the-loop.htm), costs approximately $70M per square mile of “core” coverage (based on the actual experience at Heathrow airport). So, serving the same “core area” would cost around $140M. For that slight increase in outlay (over the currently advertised cost of the trolley first phase), nobody in the service area would ever be more than one block (1/4 mile) from a PRT stop, everyone would get to ride in comfort and safety within smaller, personal-sized vehicles, and would travel directly from their points of origin to their points of destination. Also, as the guideway would be elevated above street level, there would be no worries about how to accommodate the new mode of transportation within existing street traffic, as is now a central concern of the current plan.

    I get that the city is broke, and they shouldn’t be considering spending any money at all. But if they are bound and determined to blow between $100-200M — which certainly seems to be what is indicated by the news item — then shouldn’t the taxpayers at least get something worthwhile for the money?

    The pre-millennial “sky loop” PRT proposal left open the possibility that a Cincinnati PRT system could be financed more-or-less by private means. But when public money is committed to fund a rival approach, what incentive do investors have to join or stick with a competing private-sector project?

  19. I live in Tucson, AZ, and the pols are all excited about their streetcar project despite the ever-mounting cost, no evidence of real demand, no coherent route plan, and the fact that the city is broke………..

    I predict it will be another monument to gov’t stupidity, like our now-shuttered baseball stadium, which was state of the art when built just 12 years ago (the firm that designed Camden Yards in Baltimore also did this one) but no longer has MLB spring training or even a minor league AAA team.

    The taxpayers are stuck with $3 million a year in debt service for over another decade, too…… it will probably get worse for taxpayers as tourism suffers and the bed and car rental taxes that contribute towards the debt payments drop further.

    There’s a joke out there that Tucson is becoming the Detroit of the Southwest…. they may be right.

    1. Is the stadium at least used as a concert venue? What a boondoggle!

      As far as Tucson becoming the Detroit of the SW, wasn’t it one of the biggest “beneficiaries,” in terms of increased population, from the mass exodus from Detroit and other “rust belt” cities awhile back? Perhaps Tucson will be the “new Detroit” because so many people there now come from the “old Detroit.” Just wondering.

  20. I also see from that Forbes article which was linked by a previous commenter that Cincy has the 9th best commute in the country among the nation’s largest cities.

    So why would large numbers of people switch to riding a streetcar?

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