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Team Hoping to Bring Streetcar to Northern Kentucky Heads to DC

The effort to bring the Cincinnati Streetcar system south of the Ohio River will be represented in Washington, DC this week by the Northern Kentucky Streetcar Committee.

Committee Chair Ian Budd and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell depart for our nation's capital on Wednesday and will spend three days on a fact-finding mission to explore the possibilities of landing funds for a feasibility study.

It was revealed in January that a committee of local business owners, residents, and community activists had assembled to champion the possibility of connecting Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati's streetcar system. The Queen City's system will begin operations later this year and will operate in a loop from the Banks on the riverfront, through downtown, and to Over-the-Rhine. Eventually, the project will also connect to the city's Uptown area where the University of Cincinnati is.

The Covington Business Council hosted a panel discussion at its January luncheon, featuring streetcar supporters from Cincinnati, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, former Mayor Roxanne Qualls, and transit activist and real estate developer John Schneider. At that meeting, Budd presented the Northern Kentucky Streetcar Committee's hope to connect to the streetcar by way of the Taylor Southgate Bridge near the Ovation project land in Newport.

A subcommittee has also been formed to explore possible paths of entry into Covington, likely from Newport over the 4th Street Bridge or possibly the 12th Street Bridge.

"We want them to get to know our faces. Hopefully we're going to come away with the hope of some money," Commissioner Fennell told The River City News following Monday night's city commission meeting. The City of Newport is paying for Fennell's trip ($235 for plane, $384 for hotel) while Budd is paying his own way. The trip marks a significant development in Northern Kentucky, even with a small price tag for hotel and plane, that a municipality is formally supporting the exploration of connecting to the streetcar system.

While in DC, Budd and Fennell will meet with representatives from the Federal Transit Administration, the Department of Transportation, the offices of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul (and possibly Congressman Thomas Massie). It was revealed in January that the committee has a contact in DC working to set up such meetings. "We want to let them know what it's all about. There are so many positives about connecting to an existing system and what economic development it could bring to the west end of Newport," Fennell said.

The pair will also meet with a representative from the federal TIGER grant program which funds transportation projects. However, Fennell said that studies do not typically receive such funding. It has been estimated that a study exploring the connection of Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati via streetcar would cost roughly $300,000, an amount that Budd said the group would raise privately if grants are not awarded.

"I think we've got a really good case and (Budd) has done additional work and analysis," Fennell said. "Even Red Bike stats show there is a lot of excitement about going back and forth (between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky)." Red Bike is Cincinnati's bike share program that connected to Covington, Newport, and Bellevue last summer and has been very popular.

Fennell said that she would present a report on the DC trip to the City of Newport when she returns.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News, and who wrote this story, is a member of the Northern Kentucky Streetcar Committee and is co-chair of the Covington subcommittee.