Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Light rail advocates try to sway residents

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — Officials touting light rail for Greater Cincinnati began ramping up attempts to win crucial public support for the system Monday with possibly their most difficult sales job.

        Some of the 50-plus on hand for an “informational open house” had strong stands about the plan and its proposed stop in this community, which is already split over the role of development.

        Others came to learn more about the system before making up their minds.

        “I think it could be a good idea, but I also have some concerns,” said Christine Scheadler, a Norwood teacher. “I got a lot of good information here ... but I still have questions before I'm totally behind this thing.”

        The event was the first in what is planned to be a series along the proposed route. The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) wants to build a system that would run from Northern Kentucky to Warren County along Interstate 71 with service to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        The system is needed, OKI officials said, to reduce air pollution and traffic con gestion, and to spur economic development.

        Half of the estimated $800 million cost would come from federal sources, 25 percent from Ohio and the other 25 percent from local sources, meaning possible property or sales tax increases — hence the need for public buy-in. Officials said they were also gathering feedback that they would implement into the plan.

        Monday's forum varied from previous ones in that neighbors were allowed to ask officials questions one-on-one.

        “We anticipated a lot of people who were opposed to show up, but we were surprised at how many positive comments we got,” said Judi Craig, OKI's light-rail project manager. “Of course, we're not done, and we'll come back for more debate to help shape the proposal even further.”

        Many Deer Park residents voiced strong opposition to the plan at a forum under the previous format last year that required residents to get up in front of the crowd to ask their questions.

        Several pro-rail residents attended Monday, while officials also heard from anti-rail residents. OKI Executive Director Jim Duane found himself in contentious discussions with residents, while another opponent set up a table to hand out other information about concerns such as safety, effectiveness and aesthetics.

        “This is just a dog-and-pony show,” said Norwood teacher Rene Dierker. “They're going to do what they want to do unless we say something.”


               The first phase of the proposed light-rail route, with 19 stops including Norwood, would run from Covington to Blue Ash, with preliminary cost estimates running about $800 million. Officials hope to begin construction in 2004.


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