Cincinnati region, transit projects take overwhelming brunt of recommended transportation cuts

Ohio’s Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) met today in Columbus and was greeted by 32 Cincinnati Streetcar supporters, ranging from families to young professionals, small business owners, CEOs and VPs of corporations, and city staff. The council and Ohio Department of Transportation staff members, according to UrbanCincy writer Jenny Kessler who was one of those in attendance, appeared surprised at the turnout.

The TRAC held a working meeting at 10 am with the ODOT staff (as the director of ODOT, Jerry Wright is the chairman of the TRAC) to hear the staff’s drafted recommendations for which projects to cut and keep in the 2011-2015 Major Project List . The result was a recommendation of $98 million in cuts. UrbanCincy research reveals that the way in which those cuts were administered in particularly shocking.

  • 52% of all cuts came from the state’s highest-rated project – The Cincinnati Streetcar – which is positioned to now lose 100% of all funds originally recommended for the project.
  • The Cincinnati region got hit the hardest in Ohio. 82% of all cuts recommended by the TRAC are from the Cincinnati region and account for roughly $80 million.
  • $1 million was taken from upgrades to the Queensgate rail yard that would have relieved freight rail traffic.
  • Two highway projects, from Governor John Kasich‘s (R) district, totalling $7.7 million were added to the TRAC’s listed of recommended funding.
  • Non-highway investments now only make up 26% of the TRAC’s recommended transportation projects in terms of overall funding ($18.2M) and number of projects (4).

Kessler reported that Kasich’s staff advised the TRAC to reallocate $15 million from the Cincinnati Streetcar to a bus corridor project in Canton, and $35 million from the Cincinnati Streetcar to the $3 billion Brent Spence Bridge project. What many transportation experts now seemed to be concerned about is the process in which the TRAC is being advised to cut.

“There is no legitimate reason why the TRAC should cut from the top rather than the bottom,” said All Aboard Ohio executive director Ken Prendergast. “If the TRAC ignores its own scoring process, then I’m not sure why Director Wray urged the TRAC’s creation in 1997 as a useful way to limit political influence on selecting transportation projects for funding.”

Evidently several TRAC members feel the same way. As the meeting progressed, William Brennan verbally expressed concern over the state’s top-rated project shouldering the load.

“The number one rated project is recommended to take the brunt of the cuts…that’s a problem for me,” said the Toledo native. As Brennan made the statement, several other members nodded in agreement including Antoinette Maddox, Raymond DiRossi and Patrick Darrow.

Antoinette Maddox (D), the council’s only woman and African American member, spoke several times and expressed her concern for the extreme cuts made to the streetcar project.
Maddox suggested other options, such as sunsetting all new projects or making cuts to the lower ranked Tier-2 projects. These were shot down by the ODOT staff members.

It was evident to those in attendance that the real detractors to the streetcar project were not the TRAC members who had been working together in 2010, but the newly appointed “asphalt sheriff” Jerry Wray and his staff members, Jennifer Townley and Ed Kagel. Townley, who did most of the speaking during the meeting, cited the reasons for reallocating the streetcar funding to lower ranking projects “due to fiscal balancing.”

What Townley and her colleagues failed to mention was that the TRAC funding in question is federal money being reallocated through state governments. Pulling the money for the streetcar does not help to solve the budget crisis Governor Kasich is facing, it simply moves it around to much less worthy projects. The other members of the TRAC noticed this right away and voiced their concern.

When pressed for more reasons behind cutting streetcar funding for Cincinnati, Townley later replied, “because there is already a bus system in place in Cincinnati that services the same area, we don’t see why rail is really necessary.” If you would like to inform Ms. Townley as to why Cincinnati needs rail as well as a bus system, please drop her an email at

The numerous streetcar supporters in attendance were able to submit written statements, but as it was a working session where the TRAC did not make a vote, only listened to recommendations, no citizens were permitted to speak.

The council is scheduled to hold a private conference call that may or may not be legal on Friday, March 25 to discuss the recommendations further before they develop a final list on April 10 and hold a final vote and public hearing on Tuesday, April 12 in Columbus.

The underlying question still exists – if greater emphasis is going to be placed on political patronage and gubernatorial intimidation, then why does the TRAC even exist?

Operations Manager Jenny Kessler contributed to this article.

  • Pyjack

    It’s a shame that so much of this state is so anti-Cincinnati. It is and always will be the place I am proud to call my home.

    It seems that yet again we must put on our boots and stand up for this great city.

  • D C

    Jenny, Randy, Urban Cincy team, good reporting! The Queen City, and Ohio appreciates you all!

    The ending sentence brings about perhaps the greatest question in this saga. ‘Political patronage’ and ‘gubernatorial intimidation’ are undermining the infrastructure of this state. Coming out from Florence, KY, and studying Urban Planning at UC, I realize and understand the Brent Spence Bridge project as well most in this region. $35 Million is a drop in the bucket!! That is garbage!! Just over 1% will not do sh** to fund a $3B project!! Beyond egregious!

    This is yet another move to push more and more out of Cincinnati. I love this city, but hate the regional politics, and the revolt against investment that will actually MAKE the city money. Another reason for me to follow the 10% who left the city in the past decade, and join the ranks of the 58% percent of Ohio college students that plan to leave upon graduation (ODOTs figure in GoOHIO plan)

  • @ Pyjack, Cincinnati is really just kind of a stranger with a lot of Ohio. One of the problems the city has had is that Cincinnati tends to want to “go it alone”. Charlie Luken said that going to Columbus to ask for money was generally uncomfortable. This is a big reason I voted for Mallory – he was not an unknown in Columbus.. He takes a lot of heat for going to Columbus & DC (& China) but that’s what Cincinnati needs.
    Nobody needs Kasich.

  • Aaron

    I just threw up.

  • Pyjack

    @ Quimbob, while Mallory takes a lot of flak, I really think he is what this city needs. We finally have someone to stand up and support our interests at home and abroad. Hopefully with Manager Dohoney and others we can also lure new companies to the area, including everything from their headquarters to manufacturing and research centers.

  • I just want to say, that is some excellent reporting. Kudos.

  • John


    Lets get that Citizens Initiative Process to amend the Governors term of office going. ASAP. Ohioans can’t afford 3.5 more years of this..

    That is the only way to get him out of office

  • Cincinnati is very much off the radar in terms of state politics. The same can be said for Northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana in their state politics. This is why many have half-jokingly referred to Cincinnati as the Greater City-State of Cincinnati.

    And you guys are exactly right about Mallory. This has been his biggest contribution to the city. No longer is Cincinnati passed by. Cincinnati is now in state, regional, national and even international news thanks to Mayor Mallory. This is no small item.

  • Bbrown

    Here are the emails for all the TRAC members excluding Wray.

    William Brennan – Commissioner, Division of Building Inspection, City of Toledo-

    Robert Clarke Brown Treasurer for Case Western Reserve University –

    Patrick Darrow – Secretary/Treasure & Business Manager for Teamsters Local 348 –

    Bill Dingus – Executive Director, Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce –

    Ray Di Rossi =

    Antoinette A. Selvey-Maddox – Senior Management Advisor, Management Partners, Inc – this page will take you to her email

    Patrick J. Ungaro – Former Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio –

  • Don T

    This totally sickens me. I had heard rumors that Kasich was going to pull the funding but didn’t know if he could. He’s ruining the future of this state. He’s doing all the things to drive the people out of the state that he has promised to attract.


    I was thinking kind of the same thing but if you throw out Kasich who replaces him? Another career politician who’s on the corporate payroll? Even if you are successful with an initiative to secure the streetcar, what’s next that they would try to block progress in this city/state? I think that any initiative must start at the root cause which is money corrupting our political system. You get rid of the money and you’ll start seeing our government working for the people instead of the corporations and special interests.

  • Aaron W

    @ D C
    If you leave, you are no better than those in support of our governor. Please stay, Cincinnati needs passionate people like you, we need to stick together to make it through these tough times. Remember, at least with the streetcar project, it passed with a majority vote. These GOP politicians need to remember that when they run for re-election.

  • DannyFortson’sJock

    Can anybody point me to a site or article that explains just why both the streetcar AND Metro bus systems are necessary? Not trying to start anything, I just haven’t seen anything convincing yet.

  • Aaron W

    @ DannyFortson’sJock

    First of all, great name. Secondly, the streetcar wouldn’t be “necessary” if the Metro were a dependable system, unfortunately it is not. Hypothetically speaking of course, if Cincinnatians were satisfied with the Metro system, there probably wouldn’t be such a great demand for the streetcar, however that is not the case. Along with that, ALL of the existing streetcar systems in America have proven to bring large return on investment and growth to the cities and especially the direct surrounding areas where they are built. The evidence is there in support of fixed rail, and also the federal government supports fixed rail. Unfortunately our state government and (more recently) some of our local government do not. That being said, I also just personally have a passion for rail transit. I know this doesn’t hold much ground, but the jobs created and the capitol gained from producing the cars and rail here in America, harken back to a better time, and bring hope for a better future for this country.