Efforts by local groups to turn back a proposed streetcar line for Cincinnati fell short at the ballot box Tuesday. By a 56%-to-44% margin, voters rejected Issue 9, a proposed charter amendment that would have given public opinion the ultimate say on proceeding with the streetcar and other regional, statewide, and national rail systems involving Cincinnati.
Backers of the measure said it was designed to better reflect the "will of the people." Pro-rail advocates, including elected officials such as Mayor Mark Mallory, opposed the measure, claiming it provided a “double standard” for transport improvements that road and highway projects have not been subject to, and that decisions for all modes should be made by elected representatives.
But another referendum in 2010 may seek a direct vote on building the proposed 7.9-mile, $185 million streetcar line, also backed by private-sector interests and being advanced as a public/private partnership effort. The project still seeks $60 million in federal funds.
"The other side kept saying this wasn't about the streetcar, so we'll make it about the streetcar," said Cincinnati NAACP President Christopher Smitherman, who led the drive to get Issue 9 on the ballot, and h as claimed that any streetcar operation would be utilized mostly by "downtown Yuppies."
NAACP was joined by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending andTaxes (COAST) and the group WeDemandAVote in advocating Issue 9.
Countered Bob Maly, co-chairman of Cincinnatians forProgress, “Issue 9 lost because it was too broad and too confusing.” He added, "Also, I think people tend to like rail and didn't want to see Cincinnati left out." Other pro-rail advocates noted the streetcar plan would tie inwith the proposed 3-C high speed rail route linking Cincinnati with Columbus and Cleveland by intercity rail.
Pro-rail voices also included the Cincinnatus Association, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, AFL-CIO, and the Cincinnati League of Women Voters.
The streetcar proposal would link the city’s Downtown riverfront with Uptown neighborhoods and the University of Cincinnati.