New Western Hills Viaduct Could Arrive in Late 2020’s

City officials recently unveiled plans for a new Western Hills Viaduct to replace the 84-year-old structure.

Built in 1931, the viaduct serves as the West Side’s main connection to the city’s urban core. “It affects everybody,” said Cincinnati City Engineer Richard Szekeresh, the project manager. Over 71,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. However, a city study back in 2012 highlighted the bridge’s deteriorating structural conditions and the poor pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.

The current viaduct is a car haven. Vehicles zoom by a single, narrow sidewalk along the southern edge and cyclists are rare. According to Department of Transportation and Engineering officials, the new structure will be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and built to light rail specifications.

Wester Hills Viaduct NewNew cable-stayed design presented by DOTE

Design

Heading west, the current bridge passes over Interstate 75, the CSX Queensgate rail yard, and then deposits cars onto Queen City Avenue in South Fairmont. Queensgate posed a significant problem for the engineers because they couldn’t shut down a privately-owned and high-trafficked rail yard for several years. “We had to find a way to build only from above,” said Szekeresh.

Two design features overcome this constraint. First, the cable-stayed bridge (shown in the renderings) has large distances between its support towers that (mostly) avoid the yard. Second, the physical structure consists of several interlocking parts, meaning the builders can simply insert the relevant pieces into place without much delay. Some rail lines will still be affected, but never for more than a few hours.

Traffic concerns ensure the old bridge will remain in use until its replacement is erected just to the south. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) must acquire several land parcels. All of them have been appraised, but ODOT must complete its environmental review before it can purchase the properties.

Funding

Total project cost hovers around $310 million, a substantial hike from the city’s previous estimate of $240 million. Federal funds will cover 80 percent, with the city, county, and state covering the remaining funds. Szekeresh indicated that the project could receive a $20 million Transportation Review Advisory Council grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

When federal funding will arrive, however, is unclear. Extensions to the projected 2028 end date may be necessary, especially if President-elect Trump reneges on his promise to improve infrastructure.

After the presentation ended, Szekeresh conducted an informal poll to gauge support for the design. Most community members raised their hands in affirmation.

  • Matt Jacob

    Are there any more details on HOW it will be “built to light rail specifications”. All the presentations that I’ve seen mention this but don’t actually show you how that could happen in the future.

    The ramps to Spring Grove seem like a mess to me still in the current plan. The underpass of 75 to the north seems like it adds more to the cost (and future maintenance) than it’s probably worth. I wonder why they don’t just improve the path from Central Parkway through Brighton to connect to Spring Grove via Old Harrison that is already there. Lots of land is wasted for these few trips that already have another route.

    • Timmy Broderick

      From what I understand, the streets have the proper grades, angles, road bearing capacity, etc. All that’s needed is to lay down the tracks. I’d be shocked if that happened anytime soon, but hey, pigs have flown in Cincinnati before. If you want LR minutiae, here’s the Track Design handbook: https://www.nap.edu/download/22800#

    • Matt Jacob

      To me the question is more whether we’re talking mixed-traffic light rail (where you just lay down the tracks in the roadway similar to our streetcar) or whether we’re talking about separated ROW for light rail preferably in 2 directions (via a cantilevered track on the sides similar to the pedestrian walkway here). If it’s separated ROW then it also matters on whether their designs take into account any future approaches at each end that would be needed for those tracks.

    • Timmy Broderick

      Ah, I see. I misunderstand your post. Sadly, the project manager said it would be mixed-traffic light rail.

    • SC

      Which, if we’re being honest, should be called a streetcar at that point. Separate grade light rail is a must if it’s to have any serious impact on transit issues in the city.

    • Timmy Broderick

      ^^^

    • Neil.C

      If the road is wide enough lanes can be taken out for light rail. Might be too forward thinking for today’s DOTE which seems to be scornful of transit (re the streetcar traffic light issues) but could be something a more forward thinking future DOTE could take on.

      It would look something like this:

      https://www.kcet.org/sites/kl/files/atoms/article_atoms/www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/7172898858_ebea72a5fc_b.jpg

    • SC

      If you talk to Cincinnati DOTE, they’re not totally anti-transit. I think they’re just dealing with what they’ve been given. I don’t think they’d have an issue with retiming but they also know they need to get cars in and out too.

      ODOT is far worse about advising and supporting mass transit if you ask me.

      But I almost guarantee that if we don’t build separate grade now, there’d be next to no appetite to take a lane out on each side for light rail. That’s just the city we live in.

    • Neil.C

      I never like the answer of “That’s just the city we live in”. With that mentality Cincinnati will never change 😉

      Besides if you say “That’s just the city we live in” light rail would probably never make an appearance on the Western Hills Viaduct…

    • SC

      Oh I know, I hate it too. I just think we need to commit to light rail from the outset to avoid the predictable stodgy mentality that might not let us take light rail on later.

      Fortune favors the bold.

    • Timmy Broderick

      To offer some hope, Szekeresh wasn’t optimistic the project would receive federal funding anytime soon. Perhaps the design could change to reflect new priorities?

    • I wouldn’t get too hung up on the “mixed-traffic” comment. It’s all conceptual at this point. In the political will was there, two traffic lanes could be taken and made transit-only. And when the streetcar is extended, I bet there will be a big push to have dedicated lanes to make it faster and more reliable.

    • ED

      Is light rail to South Fairmount honestly a viable priority???
      There are better west side rail routes if transit has to be rail.

  • Justin Moore

    Hopefully the new design will keep some of the Art Deco look of the viaduct, to keep it connected with our cities architectural heritage.

    • Brian Boland

      Not according to that graphic. Another of their current favorite the cable stay bridge.

  • The current span is a disaster for pedestrians and bicyclists. I am really happy they are looking at a cable-stayed span to clear the rail yard below. The current span’s large number of columns in the rail yard presents a bigger issue for freight and passenger rail operations than what I think most people realize.