Thursday, November 7, 2002

Rail side takes no for an answer

Next chance for funding could be five years away

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Transit officials Wednesday all but ruled out trying again next spring to win a Hamilton County sales tax for a new light rail plan - meaning the proposal could be on the shelf for at least five years.

"There is nothing that leads me to believe today that things will change significantly in the public's mind over the next four to five months," said Paul Jablonski, general manager and chief executive officer of Metro, the county's bus service. Tuesday's overwhelming defeat "sent a pretty strong message."

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which oversees Metro, voted in August to place Issue 7 on Tuesday's ballot. The initiative would have raised the county's sales tax rate by a half-cent per dollar to cover the local portion of the $2.7 billion 30-year MetroMoves plan, which included a 60-mile $2.6 billion light rail system and a $100-million-plus expansion of bus service.

But it failed by a 2-to-1 ratio, with 68.4 percent of voters saying no, and that rejection was consistent throughout the county.

Passing on an attempt for light rail this spring could mean waiting five years to get in line for federal funding. Congress will renegotiate its transportation funding law next year, a process that occurs every five years.

The plan called for the federal government to pay for half. But without local funding, the project isn't likely to get far in Washington.

"If we don't get in line now, there is very little likelihood we would get teed up for funding any other way," Mr. Jablonski said.

Issue 7 won in only 96 of the county's 1,025 precincts, or 9.4 percent. Most were in Cincinnati neighborhoods such as Clifton and Avondale.

But no political jurisdiction voted in favor of the issue; Lincoln Heights came the closest, with 47 percent saying yes. The strongest opposition came from suburbs such as Indian Hill, Madeira and Wyoming; and some suburban precincts had rejection rates as high as 85 percent.

Mr. Jablonski stressed that any decision about another try would have to come from the transit authority's board.


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