Reimagined Brent Spence Bridge alignment could prove to be financial windfall for Cincinnati

On Tuesday April 24 and Wednesday April 25 residents will have a chance to voice their concerns about the preferred Brent Spence Bridge design alternative, currently known as Alternative I at Longworth Hall. The proposal would build a new bridge adjacent to the existing Brent Spence Bridge.

The process, which began in 2004, has a nebulous future ahead of it with uncertainty pertaining to future funding from a new federal transportation bill. Recently, state officials have said that parts of the overall rebuild of I-75 through Cincinnati may be delayed for up to fifteen years. The new funding paradigm has left local leaders on both sides of the river talking about public-private partnerships. Because of this uncertain future, it may be possible to reexamine one of the bridge options not pursued.

More than two dozen new city blocks would be able to generate in excess of $200 million annually in property tax revenue alone, should the new Brent Spence Bridge be shifted west. Rendering from Revive I-75 Study.

In 2010, the City of Cincinnati hired consultants to conduct several workgroups along the Interstate 75 corridor within the city limits. The study, named Revive I-75, addressed ways to mitigate the impact of the expanded highway on the surrounding urban neighborhoods. What also came out of the study was a visualization of the possible configuration of a new bridge for I-75 on the opposite side of Longworth Hall that would have allowed for the expansion of the Central Business District.

At the time there were several alignment configurations under study that would have moved the new bridge west of Longworth Hall, shrinking the amount of land the spaghetti-like on ramps use to connect I-71 to I-75 and the bridge. These alternatives were embodied in Alternatives A & B in the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor study. Yet both alternatives were removed from consideration citing environmental impacts and cost concerns. One of the arguments raised in opposition to the proposal was that that the city would lose valuable tax revenue from the affected industrial businesses in Queensgate.

However; according to urban economists such as Joe Minicozzi and Peter Katz, multi-story mixed use development actually brings in the most tax revenue for local jurisdictions when compared to single use facilities. In their study on Sarasota, Florida, it was found that a local mall generated only $22,000 in tax revenue per acre whereas a 17-story mixed use tower generated $1.01 million in tax revenue per acre. Since the 2010 study, Minicozzi has performed the same study in over fifteen different municipalities with similar results.

In a recent article written by Emily Badger, she summarizes several pertinent studies and surmises that, “We tend to think that broke cities have two options: raise taxes, or cut services. Minicozzi, though, is trying to point to the basic but long-buried math of our tax system that cities should be exploiting instead: Per-acre, our downtowns have the potential to generate so much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. And for all that revenue they bring in, downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.”

Shifting the new Brent Spence Bridge to the west would allow downtown Cincinnati to be relieved from the existing and proposed entanglement of highway ramps. Rendering from Revive I-75 study.

A land use analysis performed by the UrbanCincy team found that the alternatives presented and illustrated in the Revive-75 documents would increase the amount of new land available in the Central Business District by roughly 33 percent. Approximately 25 new city blocks would be created under the proposal, freeing up land that is currently taken up by the expansive tangle of roadways that connect I-75, I-71 and the Brent Spence Bridge.

This would be accomplished by maintaining the ramps that connect I-71 to the Brent Spence Bridge and extending Fort Washington Way west, becoming the Third Street Expressway. This expressway will later align with the Sixth Street Expressway after connecting to the new bridge alignment west of Longworth Hall. The street grid would then be reestablished and developable real estate could be maximized on the newly reclaimed land. Based on the research provided from Minicozzi and Katz, UrbanCincy estimates that the taxable revenue capture could be more than $200 million from property taxes alone.

Such a move would not only allow for a sizable expansion of the Central Business District, but it would also create available land for a future expansion of the Duke Energy Convention Center. In a time when public agencies are trying to do more with less, this is a perfect opportunity to create more tax-productive property in the heart of the Cincinnati region. Moving the new bridge west is a solution that city, county and local business leaders should all support.

  • Aaron Watkins

    What can we do to tell our politicians that this is what we want, instead of the existing proposals?

    • Zachary Schunn

      Start with City Council and work your way up.

  • Will Yokel

    anyone know what’s going on with old hudepohl brewery company building? is that project dead? while i think this would be a much better solution for the city it puts it right though that complex of buildings…

    •  Yes its dead, those guys lost their funding, looked ambitious even at the time with loose money.

  • Anne Mitchell

    Is the option you are describing a hybrid, or is it one of the existing proposals?

    • It was one of the original proposals. Unforunately, the official Brent Spence Bridge website has taken them offline, but you can see some of the original proposals at Jake Mecklenborg’s Cincinnati Transit website:

  • You have to wonder if anyone on council is reading Chuck Marohn’s Strong Towns blog, which is all about adding value.  He’s thoroughly debunked the industrial park myth

    •  So glad to hear others are reading Strong Towns. Its the best thing out there.

  • This option seriously needs to be moved to the front of the line. The current proposals cover MORE of downtown in a mess of overpasses and concrete. 

  • This option seriously needs to be moved to the front of the line. The current proposals cover MORE of downtown in a mess of overpasses and concrete. 

  • jasomm

    Wow… I was actually playing with designs just like this (for fun) in 2002. Except I shifted I-75 much further west to become an elevated highway over top the rail yards behind Union Terminal. this would expand the center city grid AND keep Queensgate functional, but would require some creative engineering on the KY side. Yet another benefit is possibly using the current path of I-75 to build an addition to subway line that directly connects into the center city district. Here is a visual aid:

    Turn off “Labels” in Satellite View to see it most clearly.

    • TylerKnecht

      Interesting idea. Not only does it expand the city center and keep Queensgate, it would also reconnect the parts of the West End that were chopped off with the original construction of the highway system. Down the road, the success in the urban core can expand even further. 
      The only problems I see are the huge costs of building over a rail yard (the whole thing is essentially an elevated bridge), and the difficulties of convincing the rail companies that its okay to have a highway zipping by overhead.

    • It’s quite an ambitious plan, but I think it’s very unlikely the railroads would agree to having a elevated highway overhead, not to mention the cost of building such a long elevated highway. A more likely plan would include more of the current right-of-way north of Gest St., going directly south for a few additional blocks, and either turning east to meet up with the current Covington alignment or west for the new Ludlow alignment you proposed.

    • Zachary Schunn

      60 years ago, this plan would have been brilliant.  Now, well, still brilliant.  Just not really feasible unfortunately.

  • Ian

    I couldn’t agree with this proposal more! This helps reclaim so much of the original street grid lost to the 1948 master plan, the Kenyon-Barr project and Queensgate, which created an entangled mess of streets and feeder roads that are unsightly and difficult to navigate. I seriously hope this alternative is reconsidered.

  • Too bad the bridge is all about politicians grandstanding and not about what makes sense.

  • I remember reading this document awhile back, and I read that it was rejected due to it interfering with Queensgate.  This brought to mind a question – why is Queensgate so important?  I mean Queensgate is a failed underutilized industrial zone built at a suburban density right next to downtown. It destroyed some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country that were built as real functioning neighborhoods. The whole area makes absolutely no sense and is a problem of a completely messed up era in architecture and urban planning.  

    The only thing I’m wondering is that there is some connection on council to a business in the path of the other alignment that is stopping it?  This idea makes too much sense to be blocked for any reason other than that.

    •  Businesses in Queensgate do seem to have a lot of clout. Several recent examples point to that, but I’m not sure why this is the case. If only Cincinnati had a newspaper with an investigative journalism team…

    • For those who are interested, more Queensgate mess.  Though 3CDC is probably big enough that they can overrule any interests there.  Still interesting though: 

    • I don’t think any politician wants to fight a displacement battle with local businesses. That’s a very potent poison to give to political enemies. Ah, when idealism and politics collide..

  • What is the likelihood that this plan could be resurrected? 

  • John thanks for your work in bringing attention to this discarded proposal.  However, this and any other proposal to physically expand downtown will be opposed by major downtown land owners because even if the land is sold off with a height limit restriction, that restriction could always be modified in the future and permit new office towers that would compete for tenants with existing towers and sites that are slated to one day become towers.  

    • Zachary Schunn

      Adding to available land downtown could also under-cut land values.  Not that that’s an adequate reason NOT to go forward with this proposal.  The city should be focused on overall wealth, not individual owners.

    • i.e. a matter of politically induced scarcity to drive up market prices.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Exactly.  Granted, in areas where development is politically encouraged, demand can drive values up despite adequate supply.  We’re seeing this in OTR.  The city can and should do the same thing in Queensgate.

    • BathtubGin

       Those owners could buy up the newly opened property and develop it in ways to their liking.

  • Nice article. I have to wonder what the new bridge is going to cost Covington though; lost access from the highway, and profitable destination businesses like the Cork and Bottle and Willie’s gone. 

  • jj

  • There’s one MAJOR flaw in this plan… We would lose the Butternut Bakery Thrift Shop on Linn St!?!  

    Seriously though, how can we make this the locally preferred alternative.  Should we send this link to Mallory, Dohoney, everyone on Council, OKI, Ham Co Commissioners?  Who’s got the power to strong-arm ODOT?

    • The only bad thing about loosing the Butternut Bakery is that believe it or not the last two old non-industrial buildings from Keyon-Barr are part of that facility, you can make out (its been painted in white) a very Boston looking police station building as part of the complex that looks like it came from the early to mid 1800s.  Its kind of cool, and people should check it out.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious tax revenue benefits of moving I-75 west and thus expanding downtown.  If the city is afraid of losing tax revenue from a few sparsely located industrial buildings they’re out of touch with reality.  Retail and office building valuations tend to run 3-4 times as much as industrial buildings per sq. ft., and you could easily get 3-4 times as much square footage into the same acreage with new development.  Add in the extra acreage from removing the tangle of roadways there, and you could be talking 20-25 times the tax revenue by my simple math.  A no-brainer financially speaking.

    Of course, new development is not guaranteed.  But given the interest in downtown, I’m sure it would come in time, thus attracting more businesses and residents, and thus increasing tax revenue further.

  • Brian Boland

    Found this archived article during a web search. Now that we’re going to be asked to foot the bill for fixing up US Bank arena, it’s time to revive this and the move of that arena to the spot west of the convention center. It’s a once in a generation chance to get this right. Look at how well we did with the Banks, we can do the same here.

    • President Business

      Despite this being a smart idea, the reality is: The costs will be too high, and everyone will complain that someone else should pay for it. Politicians will grandstand behind lower-income residents, arguing that this will destroy their livelihood, and the idea will die.