Everything You Need to Know About the Proposed Elmore Street Viaduct

In the mid-2000s, ODOT designed a $1 billion reconstruction of I-75 between the Ohio River and I-275 that attracted little attention from the Cincinnati media. Who would win and who would lose as access points were shifted, added, or permanently closed?

Aside from a successful effort in 2006 by OKI to retain access at Galbraith Road over ODOT’s objections, virtually no public objections were made as multi-million dollar contracts were let; and work commenced in 2011 on a mega-project that will shape Cincinnati’s traffic patterns and property values for the next fifty years.

ODOT’s design strategy for the Mill Creek Expressway (Western Hills viaduct to Paddock Rd.) and Thru the Valley (Paddock Rd. to I-275) projects aimed to improve capacity and safety by reducing points of access and mitigating complex merging movements. This means most of I-75’s left-side ramps will be rebuilt as right-side ramps, and odd partial interchanges, such as the Towne Street ramps in Elmwood Place and the famous southbound “canyon” ramps in Lockland, will be permanently removed.

ODOT has already closed a lightly-used ramp providing access to I-75 southbound from Spring Grove Avenue, and another exiting I-74 westbound at Powers Street in Northside.

In 2016, ODOT plans to permanently close two ramps near Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. One provides access to I-75 northbound from Central Parkway, while the other provides access to Central Parkway from I-74. The planned closure of this final ramp – an unremarkable 250-foot deck girder overpass spanning I-75 near the Ludlow Viaduct – has been public knowledge for nearly a decade, but only recently has its closure generated opposition.

Evidence suggests that replacement of Central Parkway access from I-74 was discussed in the mid-2000s via an aerial structure approximately 10 times longer than the current 250-foot overpass. A drawing from February 2007 illustrates that the flyover ramp would have diverged from I-74 near the Colerain and Beekman Street interchange, bridged Elmore Street, then deposited traffic onto Central Parkway very close to the location of the current ramp.

Despite an effort led by Cincinnati State and then Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) several years ago, ODOT has not capitulated to recent pleas by Cincinnati State and the City of Cincinnati to reestablish the access provided by the existing 250-foot exit ramp with a similar ramp forking from the planned I-74 east to I-75 north ramp.

Such a ramp would not comply with current Federal Highway Administration guidelines, which discourage local access ramps built in close proximity to “system” interchanges, and local access ramps that diverge or join system interchange ramps. In fact, construction of a new ramp similar to what currently exists would violate Section 6.2.11 and Section 6.2 of FHWA code.

ODOT’s refusal to permit reconstruction of the I-74 ramp to Central Parkway, however, is inconsistent with its recent activities elsewhere in the state.

As part of the $200+ million reconstruction of the I-71/I-670 interchange in Columbus, an exit ramp to Leonard Avenue, a local residential street, was built in the middle of a “system” interchange. No reciprocal access to I-71 south was built, meaning this new ramp violates two sections of the FHWA’s guidelines and created a new situation identical on paper to the one ODOT seeks to eliminate in Cincinnati.

Access to Cincinnati State Community College from I-74 after 2017
In 2015, the City of Cincinnati, with the endorsement of Mayor John Cranley (D), outlined plans for an entirely new 2,500-foot viaduct connecting Elmore Street in South Cumminsville with Central Parkway at Cincinnati State. Ostensibly the proposed viaduct will restore the easy access from I-74 that Cincinnati State will lose in 2017; and, according to Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens, help attract and retain students who commute from the city’s western suburbs.

To be sure, the proposed viaduct will improve access to I-74 westbound, as no direct access currently exists. But inbound travel will be significantly slower than what presently exists, and not much faster than what would exist if it weren’t built at all.

Perhaps the Elmore Street Viaduct, or something similar to it, could have been better integrated with the I-74 Beekman Street ramps if access to Central Parkway had been deemed a priority 10 years ago – instead ODOT completed a significant rebuilt of the interchange in 2014 with no provision for a new viaduct to Central Parkway.

Access to Cincinnati State Community College from I-75 after 2017
Missing from the Elmore Street Viaduct conversation, however, is the character of Cincinnati’s access from I-75. Currently, commuters from city’s northern neighborhoods must pass Cincinnati State on southbound I-75, exit at Hopple Street, then backtrack one mile north along Central Parkway. Commuters using I-75 north must exit a mile south of the college, traverse the new jug handle connection between Martin Lurther King Drive and Central Parkway, then drive one mile north.

If the current circuitous path I-75 commuters use to reach Cincinnati State isn’t discouraging attendance by prospective students from those neighborhoods, why does President Owens contend that use of the very same Hopple Street exit ramp will discourage I-74 commuters?

Why No Ludlow Avenue Interchange?
Missing from I-75’s initial 1950s construction, and its current reconstruction, is a full interchange at Ludlow Avenue. A new diamond interchange on the Ludlow Viaduct would have created ideal access to Cincinnati State, a new alternative route to the University of Cincinnati and the hospitals, and significantly increased property values in Northside.

Construction of a new interchange at Ludlow Avenue does not appear to have entered into ODOT’s conversations a decade ago, nor did construction of an interchange at Vine Street in St. Bernard.

MetroMoves and the Future of the Rapid Transit Right-of-Way
In 2002, Hamilton County voters defeated MetroMoves, a half-cent sales tax that would have funded improved countywide bus service and construction of various modern streetcar and light rail lines. The initiative planned for the convergence of two light rail lines above the I-75/I-74 interchange that would have provided direct access to Cincinnati State via a station located on the west face of its hill above Central Parkway.

The convergence of two lines just north of the property promised frequent train service for the community college, even during off-peak hours; however, no call for improved public transportation has been heard from those currently pushing for the Elmore Street Viaduct.

What’s more, there has been no call to incorporate a provision for rail transit on the proposed Elmore Street Viaduct. When looking at ODOT’s 2007 drawing, it is plain to see how the proposed structure could be integrated into the light rail network, thus eliminating the high expense of a dedicated light rail viaduct over the I-75/74 interchange in the future.

Meanwhile, ODOT’s reconstruction of I-75 will leave the old Rapid Transit Loop right-of-way mostly intact between the subway portals and Cincinnati State – meaning only a 100-foot bridge over Marshall Avenue will be necessary to construct a fully grade-separated surface line between the subway portals and Cincinnati State.

EDITORIAL NOTE: After this article was published, Mayor John Cranley’s office, through spokesperson Kevin Osborne, contacted UrbanCincy and provided additional information regarding the efforts of then Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to piece together funding for a smaller, yet similar project years ago. This article has been updated to reflect that reality.

Probasco Urban Farm Looking to Grow Cincinnati’s Local Food Scene Through Mushrooms

Probasco Urban Farm is bringing gourmet mushrooms to restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets across the city. The operation is running out of a facility on the edge of Camp Washington and Fairview at 2335 W. McMicken Avenue.

The business, owned by Alan Susarret, was first set up in spring 2013. Ater extended trials Susarret says that he has been able to keep a steady business since this past winter. Technically, though, his mushrooms have been out in the market since fall 2012.

To get things going, he said that he forged partnerships with locally owned businesses like The Littlefield, Quarter Bistro, La Poste, Fond Deli, and Madison’s Grocery.

“Currently I’m supplying Northside Farmer’s Market, Hyde Park Farmer’s Market, and Nectar Restaurant,” Susarret said, “I am also supplying two dozen of Probasco Urban Farm’s own Season Share Members.”

While urban farming has been consistently growing in popularity, it is still in its infancy in Cincinnati. In their case, they grow the mushrooms from long bags that are suspended from the ceiling under fluorescent lights. The floor is covered by wet rocks to keep the area moist and it all gets sprayed down with ordinary water once a day.

Susarret says that they put sawdust and mycelium in the bags to make the mushrooms pop out reaching for fresh air. He says that the mushrooms are even part of the mycelium used in order to spread its spores into new territories.

To keep things natural Probasco Urban Farm rotates materials through quickly and gets a few big crops over shorter periods of time. This allows them to avoid using pesticides; and it’s a way to keep bugs away and ensure lots of fresh air is moving around the mushrooms.

“My current focus is to produce mushroom species that grow quickly and need less initial investment,” Susarret explained. “Though future plans are to grow Shiitake, nearly exclusively, and supply more restaurants and local CSA’s.”

His vision does not end there. Susarret says that he also hopes his business helps to increase the offerings of locally grown food and food sharing systems, like Our Harvest and Urban Greens, starting to take root in the region. The thought is that if more people are getting their food from small businesses, it will have a longer-lasting impact and connection for those buying and supplying the food.

The thought that grocers carry a specific selection of produce that is readily available seven days a week, and has its price heavily influenced by all sorts of things outside of the consumer’s control – fuel costs, freight logistics, union contracts, weather in another city – is something that disturbs Susarret.

“Being a gardener, I know intuitively that there is something special about the basil that you grew on your windowsill and picked yourself,” he explained. “People do care about food; and if I can make a contribution to Cincinnati’s larger food scene, CSA’s, and all the new options out there, then I’m giving something to an interesting and unique culture that we’ve created here.”

Susarret will be teaching a free workshop on ways to grow mushrooms in home gardens at Sayler Park Sustains Festival on June 13. And for those interested, they are also the ones with goats roaming the hillside.

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.

Month in Review – October 2014

Wasson Corridor WalkUrbanCincy readers must be excited about the idea of turning Wasson Way into a multi-modal corridor; that was our most popular story of October by a factor of 2×. Our other top stories included news on bike infrastructure, transit, and a new business opening. Check them out:

  1. City Planners Recommend Transportation Overlay District for Wasson Railroad Corridor
    City planners have completed their land use study of the Wasson Railroad Corridor and have recommended the creation of a Transportation Overlay District to preserve the corridor for both future rail transit and a biking and walking trail.
  2. PHOTOS: Ohio’s First Protected Bike Lane Attracting New Riders to Central Parkway
    Ohio’s first protected bike lane is now complete and is attracting new riders to what was once of the city’s more intimidating and unsafe streets for cyclists.
  3. Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?
    Following yet another move by Megabus, there has been a renewed call by many to permanently move the intercity bus operator into the Riverfront Transit Center underneath Second Street at The Banks.
  4. Collective Espresso to Open Second Location in Northside Later This Fall
    The owners of Over-the-Rhine’s popular Collective Espresso will open up a second location in Cincinnati’s eclectic Northside neighborhood later this fall.
  5. Transit Users Will Need 7 Hours to Commute to ODOT Public Transit Meeting
    The Ohio Department of Transportation is hosting a forum on transit funding and policy, but they’re hosting it in a location not served by transit – making it virtually impossible for transit users to attend.

 

Cincinnati Dronescape is a Soundtrack of the City and the Sounds That Define It

Cincinnati has a rich history in music production, and recently it has become more of a hotbed for live performances. In addition to that, there are a number of well-known local or locally started musicians out there making the national rounds these days.

A new mashup project, however, is a bit of a change of pace from all of that.

Cincinnati Dronescape is the brainchild of Isaac Hand, and is a bit of an experiment involving art, music, technology and the city.

Hand worked with his friend Nick Denlinger to record what they thought were quintessential sounds from around the city. This included recordings from more than a dozen locations including the sound of the Western Hills Viaduct, Queensgate Railyard, Christian Moerlein Brewerythe hum of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. From there, they then distributed the audio recordings to local musicians who them composed music to complement those sounds.

One of the interesting components of the project, aside from it recording background city sounds, is the fact that Hand and Denlinger recorded the sounds by using drones.

“The results are simultaneously a representation of the diversity of the Cincinnati music community, but also an aural portrait or sonic map of the city,” explained Hand.

Long-time readers of UrbanCincy may remember Hand from a project he helped champion in 2010 called Aural Grid, which was a “musical-spatial exploration” through Over-the-Rhine. Many of the artists involved with that project, Hand says, were also involved with Cincinnati Dronescape.

“Although I curated it, this really was a community endeavor,” Hand emphasized. “It took a whole bunch of people to make it possible.”

The community description is an apt one with roughly a dozen musicians contributing directly to the effort. In addition to that, Ian Gullett mixed everything into a cohesive recording, Arthur Brum produced the album artwork, and Micah Freeman composed the poem used for linear notes.

Nick Swartsell, who has grown increasingly fascinated by the history of the West End and its Kenyon Barr neighborhood, has even been working on a visual component to complement the track he contributed for the album.

It actuality, there are two albums available for streaming or purchase. The first, entitled Cincinnati Drones, is an album of the recorded sounds, while the second, entitled Cincinnati Dronescape, is the collection of artist remixes of those sounds.

Both albums can either be downloaded online for $7, or purchased in CD form for $10 on the project’s bandcamp webpage, Shake It Records, Everybody’s Records, Rock Paper Scissors and Torn Light.