PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s ‘Pill Hill’ Continues to Grow Taller

The expansion of the region’s medical institutions has not only been outward to new communities, but also upward within the medical treatment and research cluster that has formed in the Uptown area.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has been growing at, perhaps, the fastest clip of any company or organization in the region. The renowned pediatric research institution is continuing to grow with a $180 million tower currently under construction in Avondale.

Just a 15-minute walk to the south, construction equipment works at a frenzied pace in Mt. Auburn where Christ Hospital is in the midst of a $265 million expansion that includes a new Orthopedic & Spine Center.

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The following five photographs were taken at each construction site in August 2013. All photographs were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

PHOTOS: Record Crowds Pack Over-the-Rhine for 22nd Bockfest Celebration

It is estimated that well over 30,000 people attended this year’s Bockfest celebrations in historic Over-the-Rhine – shattering previous attendance records.

Cincinnati’s Bockfest is the largest and longest running such festival in the world. Its history, however, is rooted in Bavaria. It is traditionally understood that Bavarian monks would brew bock beer and consume it and it only during times of fasting – typically around Easter or Lent.

As is custom, this year’s festivities were kicked off with The Bockfest Parade and the ceremonious delivery of the first keg of bock beer to be tapped at Bockfest Hall. The following 21 photos are a sampling of the opening parade that took place late Friday afternoon.

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Check out 5chw4r7z’s photos for even more views from around Bockfest this weekend.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Abandonment of Cincinnati’s 1914 Subway and Rapid Transit Loop

Cincinnati’s abandoned rapid transit project is a subject of continual interest. Although many are familiar with the unused two-mile tunnel beneath Central Parkway, little remains of the ten miles of surface-running right-of-way built in the mid-1920s between Camp Washington and Norwood.

This graphic by Andy Woodruff, from the UW-Madison Department of Geography, illustrates which sections of the so-called Rapid Transit Loop were built, which parts were replaced by expressways, and which parts were planned but not funded and built.

Cincinnati Subway System

So why was the Rapid Transit Loop started but not completed?

The project had several forces working against it, especially wealthy Downtown landowners who stood to lose money and influence if the city’s most valuable property shifted from Fountain Square north to Central Parkway. The likelihood of that happening was heightened by the Rapid Transit Commission’s decision to forego construction of the Walnut Street Subway as part of the project’s first phase.

Those who owned property lining Central Parkway knew that construction of a tunnel under Mt. Adams, linking the Loop’s never-built eastern half, would likely cost less than construction of the Walnut Street Subway and cause the loop’s traffic to bypass the city’s established epicenter entirely.

The second interest acting to scuttle the subway project was the consortium of seven steam railroads that commenced construction of Cincinnati’s spectacular Union Terminal in 1929.

An ancillary feature of the Rapid Transit Loop was its intention to serve the area’s electric interurban railroads at a multi-track terminal centered beneath the intersection of Race Street and Central Parkway. The interurban terminal’s more convenient location promised to erode the redundant services of the steam railroads.

Editorial Note: In addition to focusing on UrbanCincy’s transportation coverage, Jake authored a book about Cincinnati’s infamously abandoned subway and rapid transit project. First published in 2010, Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the events leading up to and after one of the city’s most notorious missteps.

Is the Eastern Corridor Project a Trojan Horse for an Extension of I-74?

The Eastern Corridor Program has been part of Cincinnati’s political landscape since 1999. That year the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) completed a Major Investment Study that envisioned construction of a new expressway between I-71 and I-275 and commuter rail service on existing freight railroad tracks as a multi-modal solution to limited east-west travel in eastern Hamilton County.

But are the incremental upgrades planned for Red Bank Road that appeared in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) December 21, 2013 Preferred Alternative Implementation Plan part of a long-term plan to extend Interstate 74 across Hamilton County and east to Portsmouth, OH?

A veteran of Cincinnati transportation planning thinks so. Speaking on terms of anonymity, a source claims that he was approached in the mid-1990s by Hamilton County officials and out-of-state toll road builders who sought to extend I-74 from its current terminus in Cincinnati at I-75 to SR 32 in Clermont County.

According to the individual, the Eastern Corridor Program charts a different route for I-74 across Hamilton County but it achieves a similar end. Specifically, it aims to open eastern Hamilton County and Clermont County to development in a way that interstate-quality upgrades to SR 32 east of I-275 could not alone achieve.

Extension of I-74 east to Portsmouth was widely discussed in the Cincinnati media in the early 1990s. On November 11, 1991, The Cincinnati Post reported that the newly passed Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 named “an extended I-74 – and a new I-73 between Detroit and Charleston, SC, through Ohio – as one of 21 high-priority corridors”.

Planning for new sections of I-74 began in the early 1990s in North Carolina, and today 122 miles of I-74 are now open in that state.

While ODOT has never explicitly studied an I-74 extension, it did begin planning I-73 immediately after passage of the highway bill. This planning took place in an unorthodox manner when, in 1991, former Ohio Governor George Voinovich (R) directed the Ohio Turnpike Commission (OTC) – not ODOT – to study construction of a new interstate highway connecting Toledo, Columbus and Portsmouth.

An 80% toll hike in 1995 raised suspicions that construction of I-73 was imminent, however the OTC ended its planning 1997. This event appears to have coincided with West Virginia’s decision to slowly build its section of I-73/74 as a public/private partnership with various coal companies. With the end of I-73 planning also went any expectation that SR 32 might soon be upgraded to I-74 between Cincinnati and Portsmouth.

Since the conclusion of the Ohio Turnpike Commission’s study in 1997, ODOT has not explicitly planned for I-73 or the I-74 extension. However, many of its recent activities are consistent with the OTC’s plans in the 1990s.

On July 22, 2013 Governor John Kasich (R) announced that excess Ohio Turnpike toll revenue will fund construction of the $450 million Portsmouth Bypass, which was part of the Ohio Turnpike Commission’s 1990’s-era I-73 study, and is a critical link in the national I-73/I-74 plan. To be initially signed as SR 823, the Portsmouth Bypass will be a fully grade-separated and access-controlled highway – an interstate highway in everything but name.

No mention of I-73 or an I-74 extension appears on ODOT’s website; but an October 12, 2010 post on the National I-73/I-74 Association’s website named Steven Carter, Director of Scioto County (Portsmouth) Economic Development, as well as two officials from the Toledo area, as attendees at the association’s fall 2010 “Road Rally” in Washington, D.C.

Near Cincinnati, improvements to SR 32 are bringing the roadway closer to Interstate Highway design specifications. A new $32 million interchange is under construction at I-275, and the Clermont County Transportation Improvement District is studying full grade separation and controlled access from Batavia to the Brown County Line.

Within Hamilton County, ODOT divided a possible I-74 route into two separate projects: SR 32 Relocation and Red Bank Road upgrades. At an August 2011 public meeting, ODOT displayed drawings of Red Bank Road reconstructed as a fully grade separated and access controlled expressway. Those drawings do not currently appear on the project’s website.

New drawings shown at ODOT’s Oct 2, 2013 meeting and in its December 21, 2013 report are less ambitious but do not preclude a future full conversion of Red Bank Road into an interstate highway.

The project website states that the relocated SR 32 will “feel like a boulevard or parkway…it will not be a highway like I-71 or I-75”. However, no design feature presented to-date by ODOT prevents relocated SR 32 from being improved to full grade separation and limited access. In the meantime, planning and promotional activities for the future I-74 connecting the Midwest with the coastal Carolinas continue in earnest.

Editorial Note: In the coming weeks, we will publish two follow-up stories related to the Eastern Corridor Program. The first will take an in-depth look at the Portsmouth Bypass and West Virginia portion of the I-74 extension, and the second will provide an updated look at the program’s proposed Oasis Commuter Rail line.

Hundreds of Streetcar Supporters Rally in Over-the-Rhine as New Mayor, Council Are Sworn In

There has never been a single anti-streetcar event that has gathered more than 20 people, but earlier today it was estimated that close to 1,000 Cincinnati Streetcar proponents gathered with green balloons at Washington Park to show their support.

Event organizers from Cincinnatians for Progress and We Believe in Cincinnati lined up the hundreds of supports for blocks – stretching from in front of Music Hall on Elm Street to north of Findlay Market, where streetcar tracks are currently being installed.

The event also came on the same day that the new mayor and city council were sworn into their offices, marking the first time an organized protest of hundreds took place on the first day for newly elected leadership. With a defiant Mayor John Cranley (D) and five of the nine members of City Council poised to pass a bizarre collection of ordinances in order to bypass any further public protest of their actions, it appears that legal fights are about to begin.

Also earlier today, Mayor Cranley and Councilmember Chris Smitherman (I) outlined exactly how they intend to make it all work to their favor. At the same time, reports surfaced of a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman due to his brother’s involvement with the $133 million streetcar project through Jostin Construction.

A majority of city council and the mayor himself have stated that they support the right to referendum, but their proposed legislative action would run counter to that. Whether or not they will allow Cincinnatians to vote on the streetcar directly for a third time, or be forced by the courts to do so, is yet to be seen.

The next big event will take place on Monday, December 2 at 4pm inside City Hall. City Council will hold a special hearing on the streetcar project at that time, and it is expected to be heavily attended by both supporters and opponents. Those who would like to attend are encouraged to arrive early. Those unable to attend that would still like to get involved can do so by donating to the Alliance for Regional Transit and by signing up to volunteer.

“Does it make any sense to lose our reputation with the federal government simply because we want to prove a political point,” Rob Richardson asked the boisterous crowd. “I’ll tell you what does make sense…it makes sense that we have to fight for a comprehensive transportation system so we can compete with cities all across this country and all across the world. That is the goal.”

“We measure greatest not by what we cut, but by what we accomplish.”

Project Executive Estimates Cost to Cancel Streetcar Would Far Exceed $100M

The project executive for the Cincinnati Streetcar project, John Deatrick, gave a presentation to Cincinnati City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee today to outline the anticipated costs, time frame risks associated with cancelling or temporarily stopping work on the $133 million project.

Deatrick emphasized that at this point approximately $32 million has or will be spent prior to December 1. In addition to that, he explained exactly why the city would forfeit approximately $45 million in Federal funds, and be subject to local payment of any funds committed that would have otherwise been paid by those Federal funds. In addition to that, Deatrick and the project team estimate that it would cost $31-48 million to close-out the project.

Streetcar Cancellation and Close-Out Costs

What it means is that the professionals involved with overseeing the project believe the costs to cancel will be between $108 million and $125 million, not including any of the highly anticipated litigation costs.

The presentation also included a breakdown of more intangible numbers like the damage to the reputation the city has with the Federal government, and the future inability to receive Federal funding for any transportation projects as a result.

Cincinnati’s Budget Director, Lea Erickson, then explained how those costs would be paid and that the cancellation of the project would also result in the loss of any realized property and economic gains anticipated due to the streetcar, as outlined by an economic feasibility report done by HDR Economics. That total of lost tax revenue for the City of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Public Schools, she estimates, would $237 million in today’s dollars – or $594 million over the course of the next 35 years.

The 39-page presentation is packed with detailed breakouts and explanations for these figures. It also explains the relationship of the various contractors involved in the project.