Last week, Duke Energy announced that they were pulling out of negotiations with the City of Cincinnati to relocate utilities in the path of the Cincinnati Streetcar. They also claimed that for “safety reasons”, all utilities must be moved 8 feet away from the streetcar’s path, so that utility work could be performed while the streetcar is operating. Duke is insisting that the city pay the full cost of utility relocation.
But where did Duke Energy get this “8 foot” figure? The city planned on a 3-foot separation, which is the standard in other U.S. cities that operate streetcar and light rail systems—including Charlotte, where Duke is headquartered. Jake Mecklenborg has even put together a collection of 20 photos (like the one above) showing manhole covers directly adjacent to, and in some cases, in between streetcar or light rail tracks.
The real reason Duke is taking this position is that the gas lines under Downtown Cincinnati are decades old. Within the next 15 years, Duke will have to spend millions of dollars to replace these lines anyway, regardless of whether or not a streetcar is built. They are trying to take advantage of the situation and have the city pay this cost for them.
The city should pay a portion of the cost—after all, Duke now has to replace the lines a few years earlier than they otherwise would have needed to. But remember that Duke’s business model involves building infrastructure and charging customers to connect to it. The city should not pay the full cost and subsidize Duke’s profit.
Even with this minor setback, the official groundbreaking of the Cincinnati Streetcar will occur February 17.
Update (2/17): The Cincinnati Business Courier — apparently, our only local paper interested in doing investigative journalism — researched Duke’s claims, and found that an 8 foot separation is unnecessary. CBC reviewed practices in other cities and interviewed transit experts, and found that the city is right and Duke is wrong on the matter.