Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Here's how Cincinnati will spend its money from the railroad sale

A Norfolk Southern train on the Cincinnati Southern Railway in Queensgate.
Nick Swartsell
A Norfolk Southern train on the Cincinnati Southern Railway in Queensgate.

The first draft for the next city of Cincinnati budget includes a detailed plan for spending about $29 million in revenue from the voter-approved sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway.

Norfolk Southern paid the city $1.6 billion to purchase the railway. That money has been invested, with projected annual returns of about $55 million a year.

The first investment revenue won't be available until next year, but the city stopped receiving lease payments once the sale closed in mid-March.

"This is a bridge year while we wait for the fund to generate returns," said City Manager Sheryl Long.

RELATED: The $1.6B fund from selling the Cincinnati Southern Railway has grown about $14M in 2 months

The CSR Board of Trustees voted last week to send the city $36 million to fill that gap for the rest of fiscal year '24 (which ends June 30) and for fiscal year '25 (which starts July 1). That $36 million payment primarily comes from transaction fees paid by Norfolk Southern as part of the sale agreement.

After filling a gap for the rest of fiscal year '24, the city manager has budgeted $29.2 million for fiscal year '25. That's about $2.8 million more than the city would have gotten from the Norfolk Southern lease this year.

The city's plan for spending the money started nearly a year ago, before voters even approved the sale. City Manager Long's "Cincy on Track" proposal has been updated for this fiscal year.

Long says more than 80% of the money in this year's plan is going to neighborhoods where the median income is less than $50,000.

"Huge investments are coming to majority Black neighborhoods like the West End, Walnut Hills and South Fairmount," Long said. "And Westwood — our city's largest neighborhood in terms of square miles — is approximately set to receive the largest investment in this round of funding."

City Council makes all spending decisions and must pass a final budget by the end of June. Council will hear feedback on the recommended budget during a public hearing Monday, June 3.

RELATED: The next city budget has no projected deficit, even without federal stimulus

(Note: the overall capital budget includes other revenue sources and other spending plans. Learn more under 'Other capital spending' in this article below.)

'Cincy on Track'

Like all funds coming from the CSR Board, the city can only spend the money on maintaining or improving existing city-owned infrastructure. That limit is spelled out in state law.

City Manager Sheryl Long recommends splitting that money between five departments. Long and department chairs presented the plan to City Council's Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday.

See the full presentation below (article continues after):

More than half of the money — $17.9 million — is proposed for streets and bridges through the Department of Transportation and Engineering.

DOTE Director John Brazina says about $13.5 million will be spent on re-paving streets in 12 neighborhoods: Carthage, the Central Business District, College Hill, East Westwood, Mt. Adams, North Avondale, North Fairmount, South Fairmount, Queensgate, Walnut Hills, the West End, Westwood, and College Hill.

RELATED: How Cincinnati decides which roads get repaved and when

Other DOTE projects include about $3 million to renovate Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills; and about $1.4 million for traffic signals, including new flashers for school zones.

The Department of Public Services will receive about $2.7 million. Most is slated to replace the roof of the Fleet Management garage. The rest would go to restore the parking deck at Police District 4 headquarters, and replacing the roof at a building in East Price Hill used for police special services.

The Health Department is set to receive $2.1 million. About half is slated for "structural integrity" projects at several health centers. Another $1 million is for expanding the parking lot at the Price Hill Health Center.

The Recreation Commission will receive $3.7 million; of that, $1.3 million is divided among outdoor and athletic facilities like baseball fields and basketball courts, and $2.3 million is planned for recreation center renovations in Bond Hill, Price Hill, Pleasant Ridge, Sayler Park, Corryville, North Avondale, Mt. Auburn, Madisonville, and Westwood.

The Parks Department is set to receive $2.7 million. Director Jason Barron says most will go to the Sinton East Operations Facility; $150,000 for repairs at Washington Park; and $750,000 for maintenance and repairs at other properties.

Other capital funding

The Cincinnati Southern Railway money makes up about 28% of the overall capital budget this year. Other revenue sources include property taxes and a portion of city income taxes.

The fiscal year '25 capital budget is more than $621 million, but most of that is in restricted funds like Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati.

The "general capital" budget is about $106 million, plus another roughly $191 million in grants and matching funds.

Some highlights in the general capital budget are:

  • $5 million for Green Cincinnati sustainability initiatives
  • $1.9 million to the Affordable Housing Leverage Fund, using revenue from the city's Short-Term Rental Excise Tax (like for Airbnb rentals)
  • $1.2 million for pedestrian safety and street calming
  • $5 million for the Neighborhood Business District Improvements Program (NBDIP)
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.