CINCINNATI (Reuters)- Cincinnati's plan to build a streetcar was moving into full swing on Thursday -- two days after voters elected a city council that strongly backs the line and rejected a change to the city charter that would have banned it.
"What it means is that the path has been cleared and we can move forward," said Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
Voters on Tuesday knocked three anti-streetcar Republicans off the nine-seat city council. The council now has seven members who support the plan, including Qualls.
Voters also rejected by a 52-to-48 percent margin a measure that would have banned the city from working on a rail project for 10 years.
Michael Moore, Cincinnati transportation director, said he is ready for the next step, which is finalizing contract documents. By year's end, city workers will begin $15 million worth of street work to relocate utilities and officials will have ordered the trams themselves, which have long lead times.
The project will take about 20 months to complete and Moore expects it to be ready for riders by the end of 2013.
"Now the fun starts," he said.
Public transit advocate John Schneider, who has been trying to bring various rail projects to the region for more than a decade, said the focus now shifts to educating the public on how to use the new system and helping real-estate developers understand how they can benefit.
"If people want to live their lives in a smaller footprint there are now opportunities," he said.
"We should probably take a look at the zoning laws. People are starting to visualize a finished project and to think ahead to conform or try to adapt to what the route will be."
Mayor Mark Mallory joked he's ready to get started -- even if he has to do it himself.
"I'm going to get out there with a pickax," he said. "It's interesting to me that all the time we had streetcars, we also had population growth. We've been losing population ever since."
The nearly $100 million streetcar line is planned to run from downtown's Government Square, the city's main public bus transfer point, to Findlay Market, the Ohio's oldest continuously operated public market.
Plans originally called to connect the Ohio River banks with a spur to the University of Cincinnati, but earlier this year newly-elected Gov. John Kasich withdrew $55 million earlier allocated to the project.
Despite the reduction, the route will be four-miles long with five streetcars and stops every two blocks. But backers hope that is only a start.
"It will be successful and we will push forward to make the connection to the university medical area," Qualls said. "That will reinforce its success and expand it beyond the original phase."
(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Tim Gaynor)