Funding questions loom while reconstruction of I-75 progresses

In the early 2000s the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) formulated plans to rebuild and widen Interstate 75 between the Ohio River and I-275. The overall plan was divided into three project areas: The Brent Spence Bridge, Millcreek Expressway (Downtown north to Paddock Road), and Thru the Valley (Paddock Road north to I-275).

Originally all fifteen miles of work were expected to be completed by 2020, but ODOT’s financial crisis has meant just three of the 17 phases comprising the Millcreek Expressway and Thru the Valley sections have commenced construction. The complex character of the planned reconstruction means some phases must be built before others but little benefit to safety and traffic capacity will be realized until nearly all sections are complete.

September 2012 I-75 reconstruction photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

In short, work currently underway will build retaining walls and build new overpasses for an expanded highway, but the expressway itself cannot be widened in these areas until adjacent phases are completed.  So improvements currently under construction at Mitchell Ave. might be decades old before they are put to full use – or worse, these future phases might never be built.

Thus far, ODOT has only completed the $7.1 million second phase which rebuilt the Monmouth Street overpass in Camp Washington. Originally planned to be built as part of Phase 5 (Hopple Street to Mitchell Avenue), the Monmouth Street Overpass was deemed “shovel-ready” and funded through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The $53 million reconstruction of the Mitchell Avenue Interchange (Phase 1) began in 2011. Construction crews are presently demolishing the 57-year-old Mitchell Avenue and Clifton Avenue overpasses and preparing the right-of-way necessary to widen I-75 from six to eight lanes.

ODOT has scheduled a summer 2014 completion for the Mitchell Avenue work.

Modification of the Colerain/Beekman/I-74 Interchange (Phase 3) also commenced in 2012. This $13 million project is also currently taking place, and is also scheduled for completion in 2014.

An ODOT official explains what led to the financial troubles of ODOT at a Transportation Review Advisory Council meeting in 2011. Video by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Yesterday ODOT Director Jerry Wray announced funding for the first phase of the $467 million Thru The Valley project.  Although funding is now programmed for reconstruction of I-75 between Shepard Lane and Glendale-Milford Rd. beginning in 2021, there is still no definite timetable for the Thru the Valley’s other 7 phases.

These delays in work on I-75 in Cincinnati illustrate the central problems with state and federal gasoline taxes: the taxes are not automatically adjusted with inflation, causing revenues to drift downward over time, and proceeds fall when high gas prices motivate people to drive less. Until either or both gasoline taxes are raised, or ODOT identifies new funding sources, reconstruction and widening of I-75 will proceed at a glacial rate, and drivers will realize little benefit from completed early phases.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Wait a minute… all that work at Mitchell and you’re saying they’re NOT making it 8 lanes, as it is now before the I-74 exit?

    More reason to hope they go back to the drawing board and add a rail line instead of more traffic lanes…

    • It is being rebuilt to eventually be paved as 8 lanes, but after this work is finished in 2014 it will still be 6 lanes, but with longer entrance/exit merges. The phase under construction at Mitchell is only about a mile long so it makes no sense to add the lanes, then have them disappear. The point of the article though is that the phasing is now so drawn out that ODOT might take a turn sometime in the 2020’s and never finish the widening.

    • Notice that I-75 has to squeeze down, eliminating the inside and outside emergency shoulders, in order to fit through the Paddock Road overpass (which is not being rebuilt). So that segment of the highway will be considered “functionally obsolete” as soon as it’s built — to illustrate the uselessness of that term.

    • I agree it would make sense to build the fourth lane now between I-74 and Mitchell, but this release says the work wilil only extend 2,000 feet south of Clifton Ave.:
      The work underway currently clearly stops a half mile short of I-74, where the fourth lanes presumably could be put to use leading to and from the I-74 interchange ramps. But the new I-74 interchange will be so radically different with I-75 probably rebuilt a few feet higher or lower so there is no use in building these connections now.

    • Zachary Schunn

      You’re right, I didn’t study the plans/schedule that closely (partly because it’s impossible to find up-to-date info).

      Man, this whole thing makes no sense. So they’re going to work on the bottleneck at Mitchell, but not add a lane to remove the bottleneck until phase 5 work at I-74 is complete in 2018? Then in the meantime, the MLK road expansion is rendered useless because the Hopple Street section is going to take FOUR YEARS to complete?

      This is going to improve traffic… but only because everyone’s going to avoid I-75 until the mess is over with.

      Errr… I need to find a wall to slam my head into.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Unless I’m remembering wrong, it’s already 4 lanes going north until the I-74 lane becomes exit only. At least going north, a 4th lane would temporarily remove the bottleneck at Mitchell.

      Going south, it probably doesn’t matter… Brent Spence is still the big issue.

    • This is the Midwest. Unless you’re Chicago or Minneapolis, good luck convincing people for a multi-jurisdiction rail line.

    • Who said anything about multi-jurisdictional? Cincinnati can do it on its own. Once it’s successful, the rest will want in.

    • Agreed, it has to start somewhere.

    • I believe the plans do leave right-of-way for future rail along the I-75 corridor. However, I hope that the next light rail plan favors travelling through our existing neighborhood business districts on arterials or in a subway. It would be a mistake to simply parallel the highways and miss out on that ridership and economic development potential.

      However, it would make sense to build a commuter rail or high-speed rail line adjacent to I-75.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Agreed. I never saw where specifically 3C was intended to go, but with or without 3C a Cincy-to-Dayton high-speed corridor along I-75 makes far too much sense.

    • 3C was originally going to reach Union Terminal on the 3-track mainline that parallels I-75 between the yard and Mitchell Ave. Then Amtrak gave away all of its old equipment to other states meaning Ohio had to purchase brand-new trains at an estimated cost of $150 million. Cincinnati got the ugly end of the resulting capital budget cuts and they moved the proposed southern terminus to Bond Hill. Ideally future passenger rail will reach Union Terminal and/or the Transit Center on a new 4th parallel track which is estimated to cost about $100 million.

    • Zachary Schunn

      The southern terminus was to be in Bond Hill? Well that makes sense…

    • I agree

    • I agree that we definitly need rail, but I also believe that we need more lanes. I don’t believe that doing just one would fix the problem.

  • Wow. 1 interchange is roughly half the cost of the streetcar. And people complain about transit subsidies.

  • Where are the hypocrites at COAST to protest this massive spending on transportation project boondoggles? And why isn’t Duke Energy stonewalling this and other roadwork projects as they’re doing with the Streetcar??

    • charles ross

      As for Duke, digging around 20 year old freeways tends to be less messy/costly than in the middle of 100 year old City streets. But it’s true that the whole freeway system has been a pork favorite, fondly regarded even by Republicans since the days of Ike.

  • As much traffic that goes through 75, the lanes need to be widened to accomodate people going through the area and existing traffic. This would require the widening of 75. However… and there is almost always a however, lol. We will not get anywhere as a community until we have a type of modern rail transit. It is needed as a way to connected the larger population areas between Northern Kentucky and Dayton and have areas that come off of these main rail arteries that feed the neighborhoods so that people can actually use the system. It would be a great start to have a main rail system up and running, but people need to be able to access it. With or without rail, the need for the widening of 75 is critical to the area. It is long overdue and ODOT putting it off even longer is just making things worse. Something also needs to be done about the taxes on fuel. The way gas prices go up and down, people would barely notice it if more fuel taxes were added to the price of a gallon of gas.

    • I also believe that high speed rail throughout the USA should be high on the list of priorities and Cincinnati needs to get in on the front lines and make it the hub for the midwest. Then we wouldn’t be so reliant on over priced Delta and have a chance to see major growth to the Cincinnati area. I believe that Cincinnati has the ability, clout and population to make this happen. We don’t need to see some neighboring City take this from us and be left behind.