Residents Take Stand Against Proposed Highway Through Cincinnati’s Eastern Neighborhoods

In December 2010, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) published its 2011-2015 Major New Construction Project List. The list included funding to resume study of the highway component of the controversial Eastern Corridor Project. Dormant since 2006, the sudden reappearance of the highway project alarmed area residents, more than 100 of whom gathered at the Madisonville Recreation Center on August 3 for a meeting of Cincinnati City Council’s Livable Communities Committee.

On display were ODOT’s two circa 2006 Tier 1 alternatives, one of which called for the complete replacement of Red Bank Road with a fully grade separated interstate-style highway. This drawing, seen for the first time by most in attendance, emboldened suspicions that the Eastern Corridor Project is in fact a veiled attempt to extend Interstate 74 across Hamilton County.

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“We urge ODOT to unbundle the Eastern Corridor projects and concentrate on providing transportation alternatives in this community, not another highway,” exclaimed one resident at the recent City Council committee meeting. “Reallocating resources to utilize the Wasson Line will produce more cost-effective transportation alternatives for thousands including Madisonville citizens.”

Citizen feedback generally welcomed improvements to Red Bank Road, especially a boulevard or parkway that might compare favorably to the more attractive roads in the area. Many also suggested development of better public transportation, especially implementation of light rail transit on the abandoned Wasson Road railroad.

Read UrbanCincy‘s exclusive in-depth analysis of the Wasson Line and Oasis Line.

Opposition to construction of an expressway in place of Red Bank Road was unanimous at the meeting, and citizen comments were followed by stern questioning of ODOT officials by City Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Chris Bortz.

ODOT assured the committee that the Tier 1 alternatives on display would be reworked and that it will work closely with Madisonville Community Council and other neighborhood groups to ensure a favorable outcome. ODOT officials also remarked that the City of Cincinnati and other jurisdictions through which the Eastern Corridor Project will pass will have to approve ordinances to allow its eventual construction.

  • So were the hell are all the Tea party people opposing government spending on boondoggles?
    There are road blocks thrown up for transportation projects people actually want, but a project opposed by almost everyone is going to be shoved down the cities throat?
    This is crazy, by Lukens math, this thing will end up costing 10 billion dollars.

  • I particularly love this comment made at the meeting (and shown in the video posted here):

    “After looking at this plan I thought, ‘1965 is back and it’s brought its expressway.'”

  • I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Northside & “American as Apple Pie” in the same breath. FWIW, it took about 20 years & several blocks of housing before ODOT officially relented on that plan. I wonder if their intent to close off ramps to/from I-75/I-74 to Northside isn’t partly revenge.
    http://tinyurl.com/3fjwkc8

  • George Greer

    I think I missed the memo, why are we against a highway in the east? Getting to the east side from the west has always been such a pain that I welcome it whole-heartedly. It looks to follow and expand existing roads other than the bridge which lessens the impact. It’ll also be nice to have a faster route to the southeastern coast and Piedmont region that is becoming increasingly populated.

  • I, for one, am against a highway in the east because I hate and avoid driving on highways and think people generally drive like jerks.

  • chuck

    Let’s never forget where the Cross-County Highway stops, before it can complete its route to the east.

  • Dave

    I live in Clfton Gaslight so the highway has no real impact to me but I did recently talk to the owner of Mt Carmel Brewing and he loves the idea of the highway. He’s like to expand his brewery into a brew pub some day and that highway would offer quick and easy access to all of Cincinnati bc lets be honest its hassle going both 471 to 275 or Newtown Pike

  • @ Dave:Let’s be clear. A highway that only serves people who own cars does not provide “quick and easy access to all of Cincinnati”. A huge portion of Cincinnati residents do not want and/or own cars and would not be served in any direct way by a highway. A highway provides access to all of Cincinnati’s population that is rich enough and/or callous enough to drive cars, not “all of Cincinnati”. Further, it hinders access to almost everywhere and everyone else, including car drivers.

    @ all: Further subsidies to cars and expansion of car infrastructure are not justifiable in almost any case. The thought that we are building new highways in 2011 makes me sick.

  • Amen Nate. We’ve been trying to “build our way out of road congestions” for decades, and it simply doesn’t work. More roads means more traffic, not less. All this does is benefit the sprawlburgs in Clermont County. For Cincinnati, Fairfax, and Newtown, all it means is more noise, more pollution, more expensive roads to maintain, and a decrease in land values. It’s a losing proposition. We need to plan for the 21st century, where energy and transportation costs are going to be higher, requiring people to drive less, live closer, take more public transit, and bike and walk more. This project doesn’t do any of that, and is only going to be an expensive, dare I say it, boondoggle. It’s 2011, we don’t need more projects like this that come straight out of the 1960s.

  • Mark

    Dave, I would have to agree with Nate and Jeff. In regards to Mt. Carmel, I don’t quite understand how a Micro-Brewery can justify its expansion with the expansion of highways. Highways typically do not provide much, if any economic stimulation. Further, a micro-brew pub should be a means for serving high quality hand crafted beer to its local neighborhood, not the entire region. Considering the legal limit in Ohio is 0.08 I think Mt. Carmel may want to rethink their stance. Honestly, I am a big Mt. Carmel fan (their nut-brown ale is one of the best beers in the world), but if they actively support this highway expansion I will stop purchasing their beer beacuse these highway projects are driving people out of Ohio cities and creating urban blight.

  • chuck

    I don’t think highways are driving folks out anymore. The problem is the blight the highways themselves create in their immediate zone, and the proven fact that adding more lanes tends to simply up the ante for traffic congestion rather than “solving” the problem.

    I do think that improvements could be made to connect up Beechmont with Red Bank. But that’s enough – we should be improving other transport modes.

  • Just like in Western Erurope and Japan, driving as measured by VMT, is now declining. After growning by 3% in the 1970’s, 2% in the 1980’s, 1% in the 1990’s, VMT flattened-out in 2004 and started falling in 2007. It has fallen for 42 consecutive months now, an unprecedented decline. This all started well before the economic crash and higher fuel prices.

    Today, a 17 year-old American teenager is 20% less likely to have a driver’s license than a 17 year-old twenty years ago. This trend started in Japan and is now very prevalent in Europe also. The auto companies are openly talking about it. As are the ad agencies.

    Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has researched the utility of roadways and has found that the returns on new capital invested in roadways these days is far lower than the returns on private investment, adjusted for taxation. After uniting the nation, opening up the Deep South and the Inter-Mountain West, highways are now well into the curve of diminshing returns.

    So I’m with Nate and Jeffrey — it’s kind of amazing we’re talking about a major new highway project here, particularly one as anti-urban as this one.

  • George Greer

    This highway doesn’t sound at all like “building our way out of congestion” — it is all about increasing the flow of goods and traffic through the east side, southeastern Ohio, and the Piedmont region. Easier transit makes it easier for the businesses like Dave mentioned and improves growth, like you see popping up at every highway exit ramp. If they were trying to widen I-75 or I-71 from 4 lanes to 6 then I would agree about trying to expand out of congestion, but a new route that was formerly traffic-light roads is a different matter altogether for accessibility.

    Is there something wrong with benefiting Clermont County? I’ve often thought southeast Ohio should have better accessibility. It also benefits Cincinnati by making it easier/faster for buses and commuters to come into the city to work or shop, or for trucking to bring shipments of goods in and through to businesses or the train depot. A new highway does not only benefit the drivers on it! There are needs satisfied for everyone behind-the-scenes even if they do not personally use it.

    I disagree that a “huge portion” doesn’t own or want a car — they obviously don’t ride bicycles given they’re 0.5% of commuter traffic in the area. I’m out in the suburbs and work downtown and Metro is a joke for me. I have to drive two miles to the nearest express bus stop, it takes twice as long as driving, gives me a deadline to miss the last bus if I have to work late, and costs me more than driving my car. (My parking is free, use ~1 gallon of gas round-trip, and would have car insurance regardless of if I rode the bus.)

    It would be great if we had a light rail system going through that route instead but we can’t even get the city proper citizens to get a streetcar built so I have no hope of that and will happily welcome a highway to the east as the best that is possible.

  • George, 25% of the people in the City of Cincinnati do not have regular access to a car. That’s a huge portion, especially when you consider how few transportation dollars are spent to accommodate those people compared to the rest. I can assure you that way less than 25% of transportation spending goes to transit, pedestrian, and cycling facilities.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with the “flow” of goods and traffic through the east side. If goods need to get to Newtown, Mt. Carmel, Eastgate, or wherever, then they can get there. To build a large highway just to make it 10 minutes faster doesn’t actually help anybody, let alone the government who has to pay for and maintain those roads. This is the lie that comes out of cost-benefit analyses for such projects. If you look at the benefits in dollar amounts, 90-95% of them are usually “time savings”. That sounds all well and good, except municipalities and the state don’t collect any tax revenue on time savings. Once you take those out, the cost-benefit goes WAY into the negative, yet we keep building projects like this thinking that it’s good for the economy, society, business, whatever.

    What those time savings do is encourage sprawl, and that’s exactly what we don’t need more of. I’m not saying it’s bad for Clermont County to grow, but it is bad if it grows by draining people out of Hamilton County, which is exactly what this project will do. Not only that, but it means Metro service will remain a joke because it won’t ever be able to compete with more and more subsidized highways. The same goes for the project’s proposed commuter rail. It’s not a very well-located rail line, but it might actually have some hope of generating decent ridership as long as there isn’t a new highway competing with it.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Also, most sprawl has been developing for the past 20 years in Warren and especially Butler Counties, because they are positioned between Cincinnati and Dayton/Columbus. Clermont County is on the way to nowhere, and that won’t change if this new expressway is built and US 32 is upgraded to I-74.

    If Cincinnati was growing at the rate that Atlanta grew between 1990 and 2010, then talk of new suburban highways would make sense if they were coordinated with public transportation improvements. Metro Atlanta suffered mightily because suburban counties didn’t join MARTA and grew entirely around highway expansions. The rapid transit lines weren’t extended to anticipate that growth and now are blocked by it.

    The Eastern Corridor Plan includes the Oasis diesel commuter rail proposal, but for reasons we have previously written about here at UrbanCincy.com, it’s unlikely that it will ever be built. So what we’re getting here is the circa 1990 Atlanta highway-only growth model.

  • Commuter rail along the Oasis Line is a horrible idea. If you want to permanently kill the prospects of a regional rail system, then you should support the Oasis Line as it will surely fail to meet ridership expectations and cost an outrageous amount of money.

  • George, I would like to know what your idea of “free” parking is. If you mean that you can get in your car at home, drive somewhere and then park without feeding a meter or paying a garage attendant then that means that someone else has paid the cost for you to enjoy this convenience. That person is in some cases a tax payer. In other caes, it is a business who has to pay with inflated rents to help cover initial construction costs and legacy upkeep. Most parking lots are non-tax generating parcels that could otherwise be used to fortify the tax base in the form of more businesses or residential development.

    You make the call. Is this really “free” parking? Or is something else suffering so that you don’t have to open the wallet when you travel somewhere?

  • Ryan L

    I completely understand why George drives. I also understand that “free” parking is not necessarily “free.” But the fact of the matter is that George will not save any money on parking by not utilizing the lot that is already available to him. He still needs a car to get around town as it seems he lives 10 miles or so from his job and not along a lot of bus routes so he still needs to assume the costs of owning a car (maintenance, insurance, etc). I don’t think it is fair to expect him to pay extra and take a longer, more complicated commute just to support public transportation.

    I agree with others that the Oasis line seems like a pipe dream. Ultimately it misses most of the eastern neighborhoods of Cincinnati. Most people would simply stick with their car commute. I am not sure what kind of improvements would be needed to upgrade the line to high speed rail, but I think that would be a more realistic goal for that segment of track. HSR isn’t meant to stop every mile or two, so it wouldn’t have to (and shouldn’t) cut into neighborhoods like a light rail/commuter rail systems would. Perhaps it could utilize the Oasis Line until it makes the bend North and could follow the river West. Just a thought. I don’t know the feasibility of this, but if anyone has any thoughts about it let me know.

  • Ryan L

    *follow the river East*

  • Dave

    I want to clarify that I was only passing on what a business owner told me. I believe Mt Carmel supports it bc he sees the highway creating easier access to most of his customers. I think it’s safe to say that most craft beer drinkers in Cincinnati come from higher income areas (based on the price of a six pack). As far as the non-car owners, I think it’s a safe bet that Metro would add a bus route from Govt Square out to eastgate on that new highway. I guess I like the idea of being able to travel to eastgate and further on to say Hocking Hills personally because I do own a car and traveling either Newtown Pike or 471 to 275 to get to Rt 32 seems like a hassle sometimes to me. If it doesn’t get built, I won’t lose any sleep though.

  • Greg

    Jeffery J. and John S. have hit the nail on the head. Connecting I-74 all the way to I-275 would certainly bring some benefits to the region, there’s no doubt about it, but a cost-benefit analysis would show that this is a terrible way to invest $800 million. Nearly 1 BILLION dollars. It’s clearly a boondoggle, a word I don’t use lightly.

    We could build a very high quality light rail line through the entire region for the same amount of money, a project that would bring infinitely higher return on investment. Or we could build the 3-C rail line and have several hundred million left over. Or we could build well over a dozen miles of streetcar lines. All of these scenarios would produce far more economic development than a new highway.

  • Everyone’s basically already said the important things, but I’ll add my own thoughts:

    Sure, on paper, this seems like a great idea for drivers. Access to Clermont County from Cincinnati proper is inconvenient at best, difficult at worst. Eventually extending I74 would do a lot for shipping and tourism, and would help the country as a whole. These things can’t really be denied.

    But 2 issues cause problems: people and money.

    First, people. Americans have been fighting Interstates since the 1960’s. They serve all the communities except the ones they’re built in. They lead to blight, increased traffic, pollution, and increased dependency on an outdated mode of transportation. Worst, they often lead to the destruction of entire neighborhoods.

    Second, on a larger scale, is money. It is atrocious to me that ODOT can rescind $52m for the streetcar project, citing “budget cuts,” but can continue advocating highway expansion projects such as this one, which could easily cost $1 billion! Most projects such as these are subsidized on a federal level–leading to greater deficits–with only marginal tax money available on a state level. It’s clear that the federal donations to continuing an Interstate agenda will be easing back as austerity takes hold the next several years. So until ODOT gets their act in order, they need to stop even TALKING about expansion projects. We don’t even have enough money to spend on potholes, let alone to dream about new highways!

    @Jake:

    “So what we’re getting here is the circa 1990 Atlanta highway-only growth model.”

    Right in line with Twain’s “20 years” quote…

    @Jeffrey:

    “25% of the people in the City of Cincinnati do not have regular access to a car.”

    Do you have a link to this stat? I don’t doubt at all that it’s true. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on the low side.

    How great would it be if we convinced the city of Cincinnati–and esp. the state of Ohio as a whole–that it should mandate a mix of highway and public transportation funding to represent car ownership? There’d be significantly more funding for rail projects, and road projects would only take a minor hit.

  • George Greer

    Regarding the free parking, I work near the southwest corner of downtown so I park on a street where there aren’t any meters. I’m not costing anyone anything other than the usual road use which is required for all the businesses on that road anyway, and I’m not a truck like most of the traffic it sees.

    Numbers I found suggest 81% drive/carpool to work . An OKI study found similar numbers, although it doesn’t include all of the city proper and is possible that the people without cars don’t work so they’re not counted. I didn’t find any report with the number you cited so I can’t say. Another data point is .

    The flow of goods I’m referring to aren’t just to Eastgate and Carmel but rather farther away, such as Portsmouth, Huntington, Charleston, Roanoke, and Raleigh. Coincidentally, there was an OKI report just today on improving Cincinnati’s freight and commercial appeal at . Additionally, it connects more of the Ohio river to the highway system into Cincinnati since we seem to be incapable of making a barge terminal without the city ending up in court. /sigh

    Access to the east side from inside the city itself is more of an elastic feeling. I’m on the west side so my odds of going to a business in the east is based more on the pain of getting there and I’m less likely to. Opening up the highway route lowers that pain threshold and makes it more attractive to development in the east (not that Indian Hill wants any near it) that depends on the city core. The best example is the boom in West Chester after the Union Center Boulevard exit opened. The highway had always been going through there before but the improved access with a ramp on a busy thoroughfare made it much more attractive. All of those businesses would indeed be taxed on the both regional and out-of-state spending.

    Metro is a joke because it would cost me $106/month even with a pass (~$5 a work day) and I have little hope of using it out in the suburbs for anything other than my daily work commute. There isn’t a usable highway between Northgate Mall and downtown (~15 miles) other than the stretch of I-75 near Colerain Avenue in Northside so it isn’t exactly competing with a highway for me right now anyway.

    As for cost, I’d rather see the Brent Spence bridge replaced first. Mercifully I don’t have to travel on it but I see huge backups all the time and that impedes the flow of business, people, and wastes a lot of time and gas that our air doesn’t need more of.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to not need to drive. Taking an elevated train from Northgate Mall into to Union Terminal and having a bike rental there to ride into the office every day would be awesome. It’s a bit of a walk from there but maybe if I didn’t have to drive it could be worthwhile too.

  • George Greer

    Oops, it ate my links:

    Numbers I found suggest 81% drive/carpool to work (http://www.americantowns.com/oh/cincinnati/info/quality-of-life). An OKI study (http://www.oki.org/transportation/western_final_files/executive_summary/summary.html) found similar numbers, although it doesn’t include all of the city proper and is possible that the people without cars don’t work so they’re not counted. I didn’t find any report with the number you cited so I can’t say. Another data point is (http://choosecincy.com/datacenter/transportation).

  • @George:

    I know this wasn’t directed at me… but “free parking” is about equivalent to “free health care” or “free food stamps.” Everyone pays for something at some point, whether they are the benefactor(s) or not.

    The roads you travel and the parking spaces you park in have been paid for through government funds–mostly subsidized through general funds since gas taxes and state license fees do not raise enough revenue to cover all the costs. There are many among us, liberal and conservative alike, who feel that fiscal responsibility demands that transportation revenue and spending should be equal. But that’s a topic for another day…

    In other words, it is not “free” for you to drive to work. You are paying gas taxes (public fees) to pay for the infrastructure, as well as the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle, etc. The “free parking” is just an added bonus on top of the thousands of dollars a year you’re likely already spending on transportation (average person spends about $9000/year to maintain a vehicle)… and even THIS number is low as I said due to public subsidies.

    As for the “I’m just one driver and I don’t affect demand” argument, that’s the same logic that has plagued our country with such low voter turnout (“I’m just one voter”) and has led to such a general apathy and lack of concern for our society. But I digress…

    On another note… is there a rail line that does for transportation of goods what the imagined I-74 line would? After all, if the nation’s freight rail network is expanding it seems a logical solution…

  • George Greer

    Er, I never said it was free for me to drive to work, just the parking. I use ~1 gallon of gas per day and pay earnings tax to the city of Cincinnati so the same roads I pay to drive on I also park on, “free” so to speak. Since the street is never full there’s no opportunity cost of me taking the space. I do cause demand on the roads by driving in to town at all, yes.

    I’d actually be fine with a higher gas tax because what’s another 5 or 10 cents at this point? It’d cost me only $26/year extra to commute, assuming 52 weeks of 5 days a week at 10 cents extra on the 1 gallon per day. The more important bonus for it would be encouraging/funding the development of mass transit so we didn’t have to drive at all. Unfortunately there are a lot of people that can’t afford that additional cost at all and it would make their lives worse before it got better, as evidenced by a debate I had with a co-worker.

    Based on the OKI freight plan (http://www.oki.org/freight/) that I tried to link to earlier, 54% said they don’t use rail here due to “lack of useful origin-destination pairs”. Also in the study it looks like there are ongoing plans with Heartland Corridor, Toledo, Memphis, Chicago, and St. Louis plans. The future recommendations for rail are in: http://www.oki.org/freight/pdf/finaldraft/Chapter%207%20Recommendations.pdf The direct connection projects sound incredibly useful considering the number of businesses not using it due to lack of destinations.

  • Zach, the car free stat is based on data from the 2000 Census (the number is actually 23.37%). It was reported on Wikipedia at:
    http://tinyurl.com/2dd3j8

    There’s another report from 2005-2009 based on surveys that says the number for the city itself is 22%:
    http://tinyurl.com/3eeneqf

    There’s also a slightly older Census brief that reports 12.6% of households in the entire metro area have no car:
    http://tinyurl.com/3jhujlw

    I believe the statistic for the whole state is 8%. These aren’t small numbers of people.

  • Tyler

    While I am always in favor of more rail (or any rail) for Cincinnati, I really have never understood the Oasis line. What really bothers me is that it is supposedly a commuter line when it actually avoids most suburban areas. For example, rather than stopping anywhere in Anderson it just skirts along the edge and stops at Newtown and the Lunken area.

    I do understand that it would be quite expensive carving in to a residential area like that but we have to do it sometime. Gas prices will keep going up and most people in the region will be stuck in their cars.