Duke, city come to agreement on streetcar project

Feb 1, 2013

The city of Cincinnati and Duke Energy have reached an agreement in a long-standing dispute over moving utility lines for the $110 million streetcar project.

Duke will begin moving the lines now, under the agreement.

Both sides have agreed to go to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court and ask for a declaratory judgment on which party is responsible for the approximate $15 million cost of moving the lines – Duke, or the city.

“We are going to a court and ask a judge who should pay for this,’’ Mayor Mark Mallory said in a press conference Friday afternoon at his city hall office to announce the agreement. “If the judge says Duke pays, Duke pays. If the judge says the city pays, the city pays.”

But both Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney said the judge’s ruling could be appealed by either side.

The request for a declaratory judgment, Mallory said, will be filed within the next two weeks.

“From the very beginning of the disagreement over this, I have said that an agreement will come,’’ Mallory said. “This project will now go forward.”

What Mallory would not promise is that the streetcar line would be up and running by July 2015, when Cincinnati is to host Major League Baseball’s All Star Game. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter and a candidate to replace the term-limited Mallory as mayor, said this week she wanted to see the project finished by then.

“It would be great if we could have it up and running by the All Star game,’’ Mallory said. “But we have to make sure we have a safe, reliable system. We are going to work toward having it done by the All Star game, but there are no guarantees.”

For months prior to Friday’s agreement, Duke officials had been insisting that there could be no agreement on moving the utility lines until the issue of who would pay the cost was settled.

Friday’s agreement changes all of that. Duke will go ahead with the work while the case makes its way through the court.

Cincinnati City Council voted in September to spend $15 million from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport to pay for the moving of the utility lines, which is necessary before tracks for the streetcars can be laid.

Dohoney said that money has been placed in escrow and will stay there until the courts decide whether Duke or the city is responsible for paying the costs.

Duke, Dohoney said, can start the work of moving the utility lines immediately. The streetcars themselves have been ordered and the city will continue taking construction bids on the project through Friday, Feb. 8, the city manager said.

In the agreement, Duke backed off an earlier insistence on an eight-foot minimum clearance between the streetcar tracks and the utility lines. The agreement spells out there will be a three-foot clearance.