Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Issue 9 vs the Streetcar

I realize that not everybody has the time to follow every local news issue in depth, so I thought I'd use my little soapbox here to (hopefully) help clarify some confusion on ballot issue 9 and how it relates to the local streetcar debate.

The short version is that Issue 9 is a messy, poorly drafted piece of legislature that may hinder future developments plans for the city, and that you should vote no on Issue 9.

Now for the long version...

I'm aware that a lot of people aren't entirely sold on the idea of streetcars in Cincinnati, and quite frankly I encourage constructive debate on the issue. (By constructive, I mean something more than constantly using "boondoggle" like the world's laziest person filling out a Mad Lib.)

That being said, Issue 9 is not a vote on whether or not we get a streetcar.

The parties that drafted Issue 9 may have done so with the intention of using it to defeat the streetcar, but if it succeeds it would do so in the same manner as using an atom bomb to kill a mosquito. The problem is in the language that was used when drafting the issue is too broad.

As written, it would prevent the city from spending money for "acquisition or improvements or construction for passenger rail transportation" without submitting it to a vote. My understanding is that the intent of that language was to prevent the city from calling the streetcar something else, such as a trolley or tram, to dodge the law if it should pass. The reality of the language is that it has the potential to extend its reach way beyond the streetcar issue.

Some have argued that taken to it's extreme, Issue 9 could prevent the zoo from building a train ride for kids (which would technically be a passenger rail in city limits). More realistically, people are concerned about the effect Issue 9 could have on the proposed inter-city train network.

The project, dubbed the 3C corridor for how it will link Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland by rail, would undoubtedly be affected by Issue 9. This is on top of any other projects to link Cincinnati to other cities by rail. If Issue 9 passes, this will mean that even if the project goes through and trains run from Cleveland as far south as Dayton, the rail lines cannot extend as far as Cincinnati unless it gets submitted to the city for a special vote.

If the the 3C project doesn't have Cincinnati's full cooperation, it can kill the project statewide and many others before we even get a chance to vote on it. Getting federal funding for these projects usually involves demonstrating that if we get the money for it, we're ready to start building it. We'd have a hard time arguing that the 3C project is "shovel ready" if we have to waste precious time putting it to a special vote.

I'll try to write a more detailed entry on the advantages of an improved rail infrastructure, but I'll say a few things in brief. If you ever heard anybody talk about visiting Europe, odds are they've uttered the phrase, "It's so easy to get around there. You can just hop on a train and go wherever." If you ever tried to book a train going anywhere west of the Allegheny Mountains, you'd know this isn't the case in America.

Aside from the congestion it would relieve from our highways, a train system would encourage business between Ohio cities. It'd be easier to get to out of town sporting events or concerts in Cleveland and Columbus. Anybody who has to do business in those cities can be more productive on the ride up and back. (My fellow lawyers, I'm looking in your direction.) Hell, you don't even have to be productive. You can sleep on the ride up.

It's possible that the 3C project could go through without Cincinnati's approval, but that would mean the rail lines would stop somewhere in Kenwood or Sharonville. Great for them. Bad for us. At that point, should we want to get involved, Cincinnati would probably have to put up the funding for the rest of the line by itself, instead of getting federal funding.

There's a lot more reasons to vote against Issue 9. (Not setting a precedent that would lead to the style of government that's been crippling California lately where just about every decision has to go through a special election is another example.)

There's also a good reason why several organizations in town have spoken out against Issue 9, even organizations that expressed reservations about the streetcar. Anybody who reads the Cincinnati Enquirer probably picked up on a distinctively anti-streetcar slant in their articles over the summer. You've probably also noticed a lot of recent articles slanted against Issue 9 as well.

To prevent projects that could help Cincinnati grow, keep jobs in the city and draw in new ones, Vote no on Issue 9.

While I'm ranting... just get out and vote, period. Just because it's not a presidential election year doesn't mean you shouldn't have a say in the government.

There you have it. My two cents with the possibility of a buck fifty to follow.

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