By: Alex Hale ~Staff Writer~
The Cincinnati Bell Connector, known for years as the Streetcar Project, will finally open after a long and heated public debate this Friday.
The project is a long time coming, as the City of Cincinnati initially approved it in 2008.
Two referendums aimed at halting the project were proposed in 2009 and 2011, but both failed, and construction officially began in 2012.
However, progress was paused in 2013 when Mayor John Cranley, an avid opponent of the streetcar, was elected.
Cranley forced a vote to cancel the project, which failed partially because of Council Member PG Sittenfeld’s efforts.
Sittenfeld was originally an opponent of the project, but after a report showed that it would cost as much to cancel as it would to finish it, he changed his mind.
Following an audit, two more council members, David Mann and Kevin Flynn, voted for the project to resume, solidifying the plans to move forward.
The streetcar runs a mostly North-South route and begins at the Banks by the Freedom Center and Great American Ballpark.
It then passes by Government Square and Arnoff Center for the Arts and snakes through Over the Rhine (OTR). After passing Washington Park, Music Hall and Findlay Market, the streetcar then turns around, goes south and passes the Main Library of Cincinnati and Fountain Square.
The project connects some of the most interesting and most-frequented parts of downtown Cincinnati.
Proponents of the streetcar have cited the past streetcar system that maintained over 120 miles of track throughout all of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.
In 1950, Cincinnati was at the peak of its population, and then a year later, the streetcar was shut down. Many believe the decline in population has been a result of ending the streetcar.
Proponents also believe that the project will draw in millennials looking to settle in cities with good public transportation.
“If you’re talking about Cincinnati history, you can’t separate that conversation from the streetcar,” senior Gio Rocco, a supporter of the project, said. “In terms of population and streetcar usage—as Cincinnati grows and becomes denser, high capacity public transit will be essential in moving people from all walks of life.”
However, some are still upset that the project is happening, calling it a huge waste of taxpayer money for a low reward system.
Some of the most notable opponents in addition to Cranley are Council Members Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray and Chris Smitherman.
With the opening this Friday, many have moved from trying to stop the project to hoping it will succeed.
“Here’s the truest truth of all about the (streetcar): It’s happening. Therefore, wouldn’t everyone rather cheer for it than root against (it)?” Sittenfeld said.