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Cincinnati Subway: Will the Streetcar End Up With the Same Fate?

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Published on Dec 12, 2013

CINCINNATI (Jeff Hirsh) -- The ongoing controversy over the Cincinnati streetcar brings to mind another mass transit battle that happened in Cincinnati nearly 90 years ago.The unfinished Cincinnati streetcar sits somewhere between potential and oblivion. It may happen, it may not. But just a few blocks away is an example of what happens when a transportation project dies mid-stream. You have to go underground to find it. A city worker unlocks a grate and takes you down into Cincinnati's version of ancient Roman ruins. A moment in history frozen in time; this place is unbelievable. Welcome to the Cincinnati subway.There is a line under Race Street and Central Parkway. The platform is there, the track bed is there and the tunnel is there for a train line that never happened. There were a few other tunnels built as part of the system, one under Hopple Street originally conceived as a 16 mile loop from downtown, to Norwood, to Oakley, and back to the east side of downtown. Cincinnati voters said yes in 1916 to spending six million dollars for the project. But World War I delayed construction to 1920. Inflation raised the costs, so the Oakley portion was never built. And in the mid-1920's, a new mayor, Murray Seasongood, argued finishing the subway which needed another 9-10 million, was too expensive.Sound familiar? Former councilman Charlie Taft remembered, By the time Mr. Seasongood was in city council and mayor of Cincinnati he was convinced it needed much more study and planning.More study sound familiar? And then, between rising costs, the Great Depression, and Cincinnati's love for the automobile, the subway died.Parts were torn up, parts were left alone; a monument to an uncompleted vision.UC history professor David straddling joined Local 12's under the streets. Not finishing the subway, Stradling says, was a missed opportunity. We were talking about a system that required long term planning, grand thinking, a projection of faith into the future. All of that's part of what's going on with the streetcar too. So the question now is, will Cincinnati end up as the only city in America, maybe in the world, with an unfinished subway and an unfinished streetcar? If the streetcar is actually finished, the line will cross right above the unfinished subway.

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