Mayoral candidate Rob Richardson Jr. has added four intriguing words to his campaign website: "Revive Cincinnati's subway system."
Forward-thinking? Pandering? Unrealistic? Maybe all of the above. Regardless, the progressive Democrat wants to jump start the conversation about what – if any – role Cincinnati's unfinished and abandoned subway system could play in improving one of the nation's worst public transportation systems for connecting people to jobs.
Richardson's campaign hatched the idea based on the fact 75,000 jobs in the region aren't accessible by public transportation, according to a 2015 study by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center. So why not take another look at the 2.2 miles of abandoned subway tunnels underneath Central Parkway?
"The current infrastructure of the tunnel system provides a launching pad for this effort," said Danny O'Connor, Richardson's campaign manager. "We are confident that Cincinnatians are eager for legitimate and substantive investment in a variety of public transit options beyond the squabbling over the streetcar."
As for paying to resume subway work, well, that's where Richardson is short on details. Construction stopped in 1929 amid rising costs, and it's difficult to determine what a cost to upgrade the tunnels would be, let alone burrowing on. For context, the two-mile Second Avenue Subway that opened in New York City this year cost $4.5 billion.
"Rob plans to bring together several different constituencies – something he has always done – to determine how we can properly invest in the infrastructure and resources that are critically needed by thousands of Cincinnati residents," O'Connor said. "The reality, however, is that we will be assuming a $25.1 million budget deficit from the incumbent candidates in this race. Fixing that issue will be our first priority."
Well, if Robertson wanted to differentiate himself from Cranley in the primary election in two months, running on a huge expansion in the Queen City's mass transportation is definitely the tack to take. As improbable as the plan is, the goal I'm hoping is a serious look at Cincinnati's terrible mass transit system, one of the worst in the country for a major US city, and one that just happens to have limited or no service to the area's black communities (looking at you, Cincy Bell Connector).
Subway or not, that's a problem that the next Mayor needs to work on, and I'm hoping Roberston at least makes that a major campaign issue this year, even if his subway plan is already sunk. We've already got one of the worst transportation infrastructure problems in the country between our lousy mass transit and the Brent Spence Bridge, and it should be a top priority among voters.
We'll see how Cranley responds.