Long-Planned $30M Lytle Tunnel Rehabilitation to Begin Next Week

Ohio Department of Transportation officials have announced that work will begin next week on the $30 million rehabilitation of Lytle Tunnel.

Construction crews will begin work on Tuesday, May 26 to add ITS cameras, a fire detection system, upgrade tunnel lighting, repair existing concrete and tiling, upgrade mechanical and ventilation systems, install a new power supply and replace existing underground vaults under the Fourth Street sidewalk.

In addition to this, ODOT crews will move the tunnel’s ventilation system and add new access hatches to several locations so as to not interfere with future plans for Lytle Park.

The work will require Lytle Park itself, and portions of Lytle Street to be closed while construction takes place. Gary Middleton, ODOT District 8 Acting Deputy Director, says that the effort will take approximately two years, with completion coming near the end of 2017.

Over that period of time, the work is expected to cause some headaches for those driving in the immediate area. In particular, project officials are saying that they will go to great lengths to avoid impacts during major events like the All-Star Game, Riverfest and Oktoberfest.

While numerous small disruptions will occur, project officials have noted that the work will force an entire weekend closure of southbound I-71 and the southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street. The southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street will be closed at a later period for 20 consecutive calendar days. The longest closure off all, however, will be when the Second Street ramp to northbound I-71 is closed for 60 consecutive calendar days.

While some scheduling details have yet to be ironed out, Middleton says that a detailed road closure schedule will be released in mid-June.

The road closures will add to those already found all over the center city due to the huge volume of construction taking place that is adding hundreds of residences, hotel rooms, offices and introducing new public transportation and park amenities.

While officials at the City of Cincinnati have not made a specific statement on the matter, the road closures, once finalized, are expected to be posted and updated on RoadmapCincy.com.

The work may also require the closure of the eastern portions of the 2.3-acre park to be closed for up to 10 months.

“This essential project will complete a major rehabilitation of the tunnel and its mechanical and electrical systems, improve safety for drivers and first responders, and ensure future maintenance activities minimize impacts to traveling public and users of the park,” Middleton said.

While the work on Lytle Tunnel, which was originally built in 1970, will be largely unseen, the updates will bring the tunnel into compliance with current fire codes and design standards. It is also presenting a unique opportunity to make improvements to Lytle Park at the same time – an effort that Western & Southern Financial Group has been strongly advocating.

According to ODOT documents, the project is currently on-schedule, but is now estimated to cost approximately $8 million more than what was originally planned.

Area Transit Agencies to Offer Free Rides to Those Using Bike Racks on May 15

For those not in the know, May is National Bike Month. It’s a month filled with bike rides, safety adverts and general proclamations of support for one of the humblest modes of transportation.

In celebration of this, Metro, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, and Clermont Transportation Connection have partnered to reward those getting around by bike, and to encourage people to combine bicycle trips that are augmented by bus service.

All three transit agencies feature bike racks on the front of all their buses. For many people, the bus can serve as a primary mode for their travel, while bikes serve the last-mile of the trip. Plus, in a hilly city like Cincinnati, buses can be used for even short jaunts up a steep incline for those not looking forward to the trek.

In celebration of Bike to Work Day, Metro, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) and Clermont Transportation Connection (CTC) have partnered to show bicycle commuters just how easy biking and busing can be with free rides on Friday, May 15 only, when they transport their bikes on the easy-to-use bus bike racks.

So in order to reward and encourage people to use their bikes with bus service, the three transit agencies are offering free rides to anyone using the bike racks on the buses this Friday, May 15.

None of the agencies allow for bikes to be brought onto their buses, so it is a good idea for cyclists to get familiar with the operation of the retracting bike racks on the front of the buses. The racks installed on Metro, TANK and CTC can hold two bikes each.

All Aboard Ohio Celebrates Recent Successes, Future Plans at Recent Meeting

Last Tuesday, All Aboard Ohio held their Spring meeting at the newly-opened Taft Ale House in Over-the-Rhine.

President of the Southwest chapter, Derek Bauman, ran the meeting, which not only included discussion of advocacy for interstate passenger rail in Cincinnati, but also of the ongoing construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Several community leaders and representatives were present, including Streetcar Project Manager John Deatrick, Metro’s Rail Operations Manager Paul Grether from Metro, the chief of staff for Councilman Kevin Flynn, a representative from the Cincinnati Preservation Society, the president of Queen City Bike, and even Cincinnati Union Terminal’s Amtrak station manager.

To begin the meeting, Deatrick and Grether talked about the construction of the streetcar system, which can be seen directly outside of Taft’s Ale House, and the future operation of it. Deatrick informed the crowd that almost 70% of the construction is complete, which is ahead of schedule, and the city expects the first streetcar delivery by September.

When asked to address the ongoing discussion about the next phase to Uptown, Deatrick declined to comment.

Grether then explained how his organization acts as the conduit for federal funds to the streetcar and will be the future operator of the system. He also discussed Metro’s plans to schedule the streetcar in a manner that complements and fully integrates with Metro’s bus operations, and those of TANK.

Another key point that Grether mentioned is that the technology is in place to be able to give streetcars signal priority, should leaders at City Hall decide that is desirable. Such a move would quite significantly improve travel times and performance.

As the conversation moved on, Bauman spoke about the group’s efforts to establish daily passenger rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Not having daily rail service to Chicago damages business competitiveness for the city, Baumann said, considering that Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit and Indianapolis already currently boast such service.

The effort has received renewed interest as of late due to the debate surrounding the future of the Hoosier State line, which connects Chicago to Indianapolis. Project proponents scored a big win recently when funding was picked up by the State of Indiana to continue its service. Those efforts even attracted the attention of Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in a letter he penned to the Federal Railroad Administration about the possibility of future extensions of the line.

Since assuming the presidency of the local chapter, Bauman has made a variety of changes to allow for greater participation and engagement. Meetings are no longer confined to members, for example, and they have begun reaching out to the business community and area universities.

Bauman said that he hopes this approach will help make daily passenger rail service a reality for the Cincinnati region at some point in the near future.

Those that are interested in supporting the efforts of All Aboard Ohio can do so by making a tax-deductible donation to the organization on Tuesday, May 12. On this day the Columbus Foundation will make matching donations to a collection of non-profits throughout the state, including All Aboard Ohio. You can make secure donations to the group on their website.

CNU23: Conversation on Transit Should Focus on Access, Not Technology

The language we use when discussing transit is fundamentally flawed, according to Jarrett Walker, an international consultant on public transit design and policy and author of the book Human Transit.

Walker’s remarks were delivered at the CNU23 conference, which was held last week at Hotel Adolphus in downtown Dallas.

“The North American transit conversation is mostly using false binarisms,” Walker said.

Examples of this kind of “either this or that” thinking can be seen in debates over profit vs. subsidy, infrastructure vs. service, rail vs. bus, aesthetics vs. abundance, and choice riders vs. dependent riders, he said.

He also believes that too much of the conversation has been about technology and engineering, political wrangling, or how the system will be financed.

In doing so, we’re ignoring what should be transit’s goal: providing abundant access and expanding opportunities for all to enjoy the city’s riches. In other words, he said, we should be designing the transit network to maximize peoples’ liberty and opportunity.

Mariia Zimmerman, principal and founder of public policy consulting group MZ Strategies, agreed with Walker that too much of the discussion and advocacy surrounding transit is about the infrastructure itself.

She noted that such thinking has had the effect of the trickle of funding transit gets through the Federal Transit Administration being used almost entirely for buses, tracks, train cars and shelters, with precious little available for actual operation.

“Transit, at best, is the poor stepchild,” Zimmerman said. “In many cases, it’s the bastard. When we’re investing in the infrastructure instead of the operating, it’s tough. How can we sell and persuade people to support transit – outside of the infrastructure?”

Without access, there is no transit service, only symbolism, Walker said.

“One thing to know is that access leads overwhelmingly to ridership,” he said. “The idea that transit infrastructure has outcomes just by itself is a false analogy imported from buildings and highways.”

Walker quoted Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, who said that “Western cultures are prone to eat the wrapper and throw away the food.”

“This existing view of transit is all the wrapper,” he said. “The freedom and opportunity of people to access their city is the food.”

PHOTOS: Three Transportation Construction Projects Altering The Urban Landscape

The first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar is remaking the look and feel of streets throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, but it’s not the only major transportation project under construction at this point.

Work on the $106 million MLK Interchange is moving along at a steady pace, and it is transforming its immediate environs. At the same time, work continues to plod ahead on the multi-billion dollar rebuild of I-75 through the city.

As fun as those highway projects might be, the streetcar still looms as the most exciting project in the region. Even though there are daily media reports on the $148 million project, it is hard to resist sharing more about it since it shockingly stands as the first rail transit for a region of more than 2.1 million people.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 20 photographs in this gallery were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy in April 2015.