Financing Falling Into Place for $108M MLK Interchange Project

Planning and financing is progressing for construction of a new interchange between E. Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The $108 million MLK Interchange will fill the most obvious gap in the area’s expressway system – zero access to Uptown from northbound I-71 and circuitous access from southbound I-71 via the William Howard Taft ramp.

The Taft and McMillan ramps will remain under the state’s current plans, but the new MLK Interchange will become the preferred point of access for the University of Cincinnati, Children’s Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo, University of Cincinnati Medical Center and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

MLK Interchange Site
Martin Luther King Drive as it passes over I-71 presently. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

In addition to the MLK Interchange, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) broke ground on the reconstruction of I-75’s Hopple Street Interchange. This project will reconfigure W. Martin Luther King Drive west of McMicken Street to meet Hopple Street on a new bridge above Central Parkway.

Two years ago UrbanCincy reported on these two transformative projects, planned for each end of Martin Luther King Drive, which will dramatically change the way motorists access the region’s second largest employment center.

The MLK Interchange has been the subject of considerable attention during the first half of 2013 due to the controversy generated by COAST when it worked to block Cincinnati’s Parking Modernization & Lease deal. The deal, which is now proceeding after a lengthy legal battle, was originally envisioned as the source for the $20 million local contribution to the interchange project.

In addition to blocking the parking deal temporarily, the injunction prevented the City of Cincinnati from passing emergency ordinances. This detail jeopardized the streetcar project, as it was timed perfectly to coincide with council’s need to allocate additional funds after construction bids returned much higher than expected.

MLK Interchange Preferred Alternative
Financing is beginning to fall into place to fund the preferred alternative for the $108M MLK Interchange. Provided.

In April, an effort led by COAST and City Council member Chris Smitherman (I) gathered the necessary signatures to place the parking lease ordinance on the November 2013 ballot. However, on June 12, the parking lease injunction was overturned by Judge Penelope R. Cunningham, wife of anti-streetcar and anti-parking lease 700 WLW talk host Bill Cunningham.

With the ballot issue avoided, streetcar and MLK Interchange planning resumed.

On July 9, the Ohio Controlling Board approved $4.2 million for property acquisition near the planned MLK Interchange in anticipation of a July 2014 start date for the project. Then, on July 22, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) announced that a portion of his $3 billion lease of the Ohio Turnpike will fund the state’s contribution for the project.

The turnpike deal, which is similar in its strategy to Cincinnati’s parking lease, has hypocritically been spared the legal obstructionism of COAST or the criticism of talk radio hosts.

The City of Cincinnati is hosting a neighborhood meeting on July 24 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Corryville at 3024 Vine Street between 5pm and 7pm. According the city, the meeting is “intended to guide the Uptown neighborhoods, institutions and city in visioning the future character and nature for the corridor.”

City officials say that formal presentations will be given on the half-hour, and that those who are unable to attend can still submit their comments or questions until Friday, August 2, 2013. Those wishing to submit their comments outside of the meeting can either email or send in written correspondence to the Uptown Consortium at 629 Oak Street, Suite 306, Cincinnati, OH 45206.

  • More details on the meeting…?

  • David Thomas

    So, the ramp from south 71 to Taft will now start back with this new MLK ramp? If so, that’s going to be a really long ramp.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      I think the Taft ramp stays the same.?

  • Jules Michael Rosen

    As it stands, the MLK corridor is highway-like and deprioritizes both pedestrians and bikes. I hope that bike lanes (or tracks) could will become a part of this plan extending from the current terminus of bike lanes at Reading and MLK. (And “multi-use” sidewalks currently in place do not suffice.) Forward-thinking cities would aim to include an east-west biking corridor in their plans, especially when it abuts the city’s biggest university, if they are hoping to retain young people. Also, the appearance of the road and its surroundings from Highland to Glibert is atrocious with blighted properties on both sides and again a highway-like ambience. A landscaped median and street-trees would go a long way to improving the perception of this area, which many people view as a ghetto.

    • Something really needs to be done with MLK. Maybe one day, if the Mt. Auburn tunnel ever gets built, they could put a subway station underneath MLK near the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

      No matter what happens with the Mt. Auburn tunnel, city officials should be working on a traffic calming plan for MLK, Calhoun/William Howard Taft, and McMicken. These streets are seeing lots of private investment and the city should be working to make it safe for all of the new pedestrians and cyclists there. I also fear that this new MLK Interchange might only make a bad traffic situation worse along Martin Luther King Boulevard.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      Pie in the sky, my friend. Looks far too costly:

    • I agree with what you said, but I think the biggest opportunity is for some serious traffic calming on Calhoun/Taft and McMillan. Now that MLK will be expected to handle the majority of the traffic, Calhoun/Taft and McMillan could be converted to two-way for their entire lengths. This would have a tremendous positive impact on Clifton Heights and Corryville.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      I’m not sure that changing Calhoun/McMillan to two-way streets would necessarily have a good impact on Clifton Heights. In fact, I think due to the resulting elimination of traffic on McMillan, many of the businesses in that corridor would suffer. Say good bye to Pomodori’s and Adriatico’s.

    • charles ross

      The other, hidden horror created when Melish was disappeared and the MLK long bridge was built is the isolation of all those little neighborhood streets cut off and overshadowed by the overpass and I-71. Walnut Hills and Avondale got sucker punched by that. I wonder is there any provision in the new design to calm MLK and re-integrate some of those little streets ( Melish Place, et al) back into the urban fabric?

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      The plan looks like it calls for more of Melish Place to get cut off, the elimination of Van Buren under the MLK bridge, and the razing of additional properties to create cul-de-sacs at the ends of Borman and Savoy. The project nets two more dead end streets, but, hey, then they get to experience the wonder of suburbia while never leaving the city, right?

    • The plans are to make MLK an urban “boulevard” with landscaped medians. I believe it’s only a conceptual idea at this point, but I believe bike lanes have been talked about, and discussions are occurring with Metro regarding a potential BRT corridor. Or so I was told.