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Columbus Streetcar Group Says System Would be Economic Boon

Representatives of Mayor Coleman's streetcar working group presented their recommendations to a few members of the Columbus city council on Wednesday.

Two streetcar proponents had nothing but superlatives for the proposed downtown streetcar system. But only two city council member were present to hear them - Mike Mentel and Maryellen O'Shaughnessy the chair of the public service and transportation committee.

"We have a lot of skepticism," O'Shaughnessy says. "I wish we had more council members here. We'll make sure we get the information to the council members so they understand what the impact is building out a streetcar system in Columbus."

Mike Reese, the mayor's soon-to-be chief of staff, said the system would create 3,000 jobs, spur more downtown housing, expand hotel space and generate more taxes from tourist lodging. The most popular route, he said, is the 2-mile-long High Street Blue Line.

"A loop here in the south side in Brewery District-German Village area up to Buttles and the Short North and a loop up here. This line itself was $64 to $77 million."

It would cost about $4.5 million a year to operate, but according to the street car working group the city would realize a return of up to $248 million in economic development.

And more good news -- the Short North arches would not obstruct the overhead power lines needed to run the streetcars. The Downtown Development Office's Larry Fisher says other elements will be aesthetically pleasing.

"The poles themselves would be sculpture-like with appropriate lighting - whatever decorations - so that they would be an attractive feature and not a negative feature."

The biggest roadblock is how to pay for the system. If the tracks are made light-rail compatible the price tag goes up. Then there's the pressing need, according to Councilwoman O'Shaughnessy to rework sections of the Interstates downtown.

"We're tossing around options for the 70-71 rebuild as we're tossing around funding for the street cars. But let's figure out how we can get both these worthy projects done the right way."