Thursday, June 27, 2002

Grants would support Banks

OKI applies for money for bus service, garages

By James Pilcher,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Banks could get a significant financial spark from an unexpected source — the area's major transportation planning agency.

        Officials with the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) Wednesday said they have applied for $11.5 million in federal transportation money. The money would help build parking garages and provide bus service at the proposed riverfront development, money which would be used to help offset the $68 million total bill for the garages.

        OKI officials also said the Federal Highway Administration ruled the project would be eligible for congestion management/air quality funds, despite not falling within traditional transportation projects.

        “We think we have a very good chance of getting the money,” said OKI spokesman Allen Freeman, adding that the final decision should be made in the next two to four months.

        The application says the garage project, which would include discount parking spaces for those who car pool as well as other spaces for the area's van pool program, would reduce air pollution.

        If approved, the money would be appropriated in 2005. But there are ways for Hamilton County and the Greater Cincinnati Port Development Authority to get money beforehand — low-interest loans from Ohio that could be paid back later with the federal money, and by using existing air quality funds allocated to the state that have not been used and would have to be returned after three years anyway.

        In March, the Hamilton County Commission voted to appropriate another $20.8 million for garages on two blocks from the half-cent sales tax increase county voters approved for the downtown stadiums in 1996. That money will become available only if other issues — such as utility installation and street grids — are paid for by the city of Cincinnati.

        Port Authority president Tim Sharp, whose agency is overseeing the overall $600 million project that also includes the creation of a 52-acre park and the possibility of residential and commercial development over Fort Washington Way, said the federal money would be welcomed. But, he said, it's important to have money to build all of the parking garages secured.

        “We've got to be able to build all the garages down there,” Mr. Sharp said. “In order for any developer to invest time, effort and dollars in our riverfront, they want to make sure the whole project happens.”

        Mr. Freeman said the project could also eventually be tied into the proposed light rail/streetcar project unveiled Tuesday by Metro, Hamilton County's public bus system.

        Given its role is normally highway and mass transit planning, OKI's involvement in the Banks project came as somewhat of a surprise to some area officials, including Metro chief executive officer and general manager Paul Jablonski.

        “But it shows how transit and transportation can be involved and leveraged into everything,” said Mr. Jablonski, whose bus service would provide shuttles for the parking garages, under the proposal.

        Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin welcomed the news, saying that any new money is welcome for the project, especially with sales tax revenues in decline.

        “It's a creative way at looking at it. But we are looking for money, and we can't really go forward until we get it,” Mr. Dowlin said. “This is wonderful.”
       Staff writer Dan Klepal contributed


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