Hidden Assets of Fort Washington Way Saving Taxpayers Millions of Dollars

Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy is highlighting Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati riverfront from its downtown. Part-one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront. This week’s piece will discuss some of the unseen assets included in the project that continue to benefit Cincinnatians in a variety of ways today, and will continue to do so well into the future.

Those who enjoy spending their summer evenings at Great American Ball Park to watch our first-place Reds, or our defending AFC North Champion Bengals, have probably seen the stairway entrances to the Riverfront Transit Center. Below Second Street, along the southern portion of FWW, lies an underground multi-modal transit facility. Demonstrating a tremendous amount of foresight, engineers constructed a transit center reportedly capable of moving 500 buses into and out of the heart of downtown in an hour.  This is in addition to Second Street which is designed to also accommodate light rail and streetcars at street level while the underground portion is capable of accommodating light rail, commuter rail, and buses.  And all of this was designed with future transit connections to Northern Kentucky via the Taylor Southgate Bridge, and Cincinnati’s eastern and western suburbs via Riverside Drive and Longworth Hall respectively.

As The Banks development continues its exciting march toward completion, its visitors along with those frequenting Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Paul Brown Stadium will use the anticipatory infrastructure available at the transit facility that could eventually be home to trains serving downtown on a regional light rail network – an inclusion that will eventually save taxpayers millions of dollars once light rail begins to serve Cincinnati central riverfront.

But the Riverfront Transit Center is not the only instance of transportation foresight included with the FWW redesign ten years ago. The roadways that span FWW at Main and Walnut streets were both built to withstand the weight or rail transportation. Furthermore, the sidewalks on each of the roadways connecting Second and Third streets over FWW are some of the widest in the city. Knowing the untapped potential of the area that would later become The Banks development, engineers and city officials determined it prudent to build the spans to support pedestrian, vehicular, bus and rail transportation. Now, as the city builds the Cincinnati Streetcar, it can easily and seamlessly connect the central riverfront to the rest of downtown and beyond because the engineers planned for it a full ten years ago.

Another problem along Cincinnati’s central riverfront was the presence of combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The CSOs are the result of an outdated sewer and water pipe system that becomes overloaded during heavy rainfall events. The result is the combination of solid waste and water runoff into our natural waterways like the Ohio River and its tributaries. Due to the health and ecological concerns, the city and county are under a decree to fix the problem over the next decade or so.

Ten years ago, during the reconstruction of FWW, engineers knew that the problem needed to be addressed eventually, so they built storage tunnels along the trench below Third Street. These pipes act as de facto storage tanks when it rains, allowing runoff and raw sewage to stay in the pipes until it can be treated. From this foresight, the number of raw sewage spills in the immediate area has decreased from about 150 per year to around four or five – an achievement determined by ORSANCO to have provided “measurable water quality improvements to the Ohio River.”

Had the engineers not thought to include the transit center below Second Street, installed wide sidewalks for pedestrians, included the capability to safely transport a streetcar, and built water pipes that can withstand the rain, current and future taxpayers would be burdened with the cost of redoing something we constructed a mere decade ago. Building these features before the need arose ensured that the area is not in a constant state of construction. Furthermore, it allows development to proceed more quickly and without additional unnecessary costs.

Ignoring long-term needs is a foolish, dangerous, and potentially expensive way to run a city. While some city leaders of yesterday and today do indeed deserve criticism for a lack of long-term planning, we ought to give credit where credit is due. And the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way is one of those instances. The decisions made by city leaders over a decade ago have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Next Wednesday’s segment will discuss how a project involving so many different interested parties could even be accomplished. In the final article, we will provide ideas for the future of the area, and seek feedback from our readers on what the city can do to make the area more inviting.

  • You have no idea how much nicer that area is for peds nowadays.
    Altho 2nd street was kinda cool.

  • Do the underground retention tanks/pipes collect combination sewers or do they only collect and store storm water?

  • I’m liking this series.
    I hope you can find more subjects after this one runs its course.

  • I said this briefly on Twitter, but this series continues to highlight that rather than being a boondoggle, this remaking of the Ft. Washington Way is showing the incredible foresight of the designers, allowing for a versatility that would have been impossible if required later. Even the transit center, while underused now, is showing it’s worth when games are being played and buses are using the center instead of clogging up the Second Street area. This series should be required reading for those who believe this revamping was a mistake. And that’s without even consider how much more easily the highway traffic moves through this road to the two interstates and the various exits (the northbound entrance to I-75 alone is one of those where you think, why didn’t someone think of this a long time ago?).

  • CityKin- it is my understanding that the storage is for the combined sewer and stormwater runoff. The issue is that our system treats stormwater runoff, so they combined it with the sewer because both are going to the treatment plant. Unfortunately, hen it rains, the system cannot process the volume quickly enough, so it has to dump into the Ohio and it’s tributaries like Mill Creek.

    From what I gather, this feature of FWW simply increases the storage capacity for the combined system. I’ll ask the engineer and let you know if that is not the case.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Someone needs to ask Fred Craig if construction of the Transit Center was ever planned for Third Street instead of the new Second Street. It was impossible to see what they were doing when the combined sewer overflow was being built so I don’t know if its design precluded construction of the equivalent of the Transit Center in that location. Third would have placed the Transit Center entrances about 250 feet closer to the CBD.

  • Jake –

    250 feet closer to the CBD would have been nice I guess, but the Transit Center being close to the stadia and the Banks makes more sense, I think. Sure, compared to it’s capacity, it may have been under-used over the past decade, but its current location is ideal for the development that is happening south of Second right now.

  • John Schneider

    ^ The Riverfront Transit Center was never considered for Third Street. The reason is, the narrowed “trench” of Fort Washington Way gave up an already-excavated right-of-way that would have been very expensive to dig on Third Street. And had the RTC not been built where it is, that mile-long, 85-foot wide cavity would have had to have been filled to bring Second Street up to grade. So siting in at Second Street solve two problems.

    Plus, however hard the connections are at the ends of the RTC, they would have been much harder anywhere north of there.

  • Justin

    I can’t express enough how great this post is and echo 5chw4r7z’s call for more like it in the future. It is frustrating to hear some in (and out of) our community call every major project a “boondoggle.” This word, along with phrases like “trolly folly” and “choo-choo” train, have become extremely frustrating to hear from those with extreme views on taxes and spending. This article provides the facts on a common target for the cries of “boondoggle.” I too am extremely impressed with the foresight of the planners of FWW to envision a Cincinnati with a complete transportation system.

    I was reading an article on Urbanophile that mirrors the last part of this article. It’s about Columbus, Indiana. http://www.urbanophile.com/2010/07/11/the-columbus-indiana-values-proposition/. It’s a great read and a perfect example of how valuable long-term planning and vision is from our local leaders.

  • Justin, thank you for your kind words on my article. It is comments like yours and 5chw4r7z’s that help keep us motivated to write what we write.

    The writers from UrbanCincy got together this evening to talk about some feature stories we are working on over the next couple of weeks. We thank you for reading and hope that you’ll continue to read, to comment, and to be energized by what we do. We hope we can live up to your expectations.

  • Fred Craig

    The RTC connects to the Oasis line on the east and the CIND line on the west. The north wall of the RTC is a flood wall and there is a pump station that pumps FWW out if it floods. The RTC replaced the old freight line that ran through the riverfront. If it were under 3rd, it could not connect through FWW due to the Lytle tunnel on one end…plus the cost to dig up 3rd would have been astronomical. We looked at 25 alternatives over a month to get the RTC concept refined. We provided for the current streetcar lines and the Eastern Corridor connections, as well as to Ky over the Taylor Southgate and Clay Wade Bailey bridges. There is a 48 in water main under the RTC which goes to a tunnel west of town to provide water to NKY. We did not have a lot of time to think about it. The original highway project was on time and on budget. The city and others added the floodwall, the water main, the CSO interceptor, the RTC, the Level 3 system, and still built it on time to open for the Bengals. I have appreciated your comments about this project. Roxanne Qualls, John Deatrick and John Schneider, as well as hundreds of engineers and contractors deserve the credit for getting this done. It was the most intense fun I’ve ever had.

  • Great post, especially about the Transit Center. I just wished it was used to a more frequent capacity, even if it was for buses. It’s an amazing piece of infrastructure. Excellent writeup, David. I also really like the picture of the Transit Center portal at top left.