Construction to Start on $29M South Hamilton Crossing Project This March

Hamilton city officials recently celebrated the announcement that Barclaycard would bring up to 1,500 jobs to Vora Technology Park for a new call center. Now, in almost perfect timing, public officials say they are ready to move forward with a $29 million project that will greatly improve access to the site.

Last week the OKI Regional Council of Governments awarded $3.75 million to the South Hamilton Crossing project. This is in addition to a previous allocation of $2.45 million from OKI, and $10 million from the State of Ohio. The remaining funds are coming from the City of Hamilton and Butler County.

“OKI’s support of the South Hamilton Crossing project is crucial to its success and illustrates how important the overpass is to our regional transit network,” City Manager Joshua Smith stated in a prepared release.

Hamilton has long been defined by its numerous freight railways. While they have been productive for the city, they have also served as barriers between neighborhoods since they typically operate at-grade.

The Jack Kirsch Underpass on High Street is the only grade-separated rail crossing in Hamilton that offers east-west flow. As a result, the South Hamilton Crossing has long been envisioned; with some plans showing it that date all the way back to 1911.

As of now, Grand Boulevard terminates at the CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Lindenwald. People walking, biking or driving must then head north along Central Avenue and then cut across the four railroad tracks diagonally.

This new project will extend Grand Boulevard to the west to University Boulevard, serving Vora Technology Park and Miami University Hamilton. Instead of crossing the four railroad tracks, the extended road will bridge them, thus offering fewer conflicts for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, along with fewer restrictions for freight operators.

“SHX is very important for both safety and economic reasons,” said Smith. “With the recent announcement that Barclaycard is opening a 1,500 person facility at Vora Technology Park, the need for better access to the area is more important now than ever.”

Transportation officials say that 56 trains travel through this crossing on a daily basis, which results in its blockage a total of 15.3% of the time. As a result, the new overpass is expected to greatly improve connectivity, reduce travel times, and increase safety.

Project leaders say that construction should begin in March 2016 and be completed in mid-2018.

Hamilton Looking For Public Input on Annual Action Plan

Hamilton OHThe City of Hamilton is seeking input from the general public as it prepares its Annual Action Plan for 2016-17 for grants received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funds are disbursed to localities throughout the country to help address the needs of low- to moderate-income residents. Some of the programs that are funded fully or in part by these HUD grants include youth services, elderly services, transportation improvements, neighborhood stabilization programs, crime prevention, job training, and much more.

Hamilton qualifies for support due to its higher-than-average poverty rate (22.9%) and its lower-than-average homeownership rate (56.5%).

If you currently live or work, have ever lived or worked, or just generally care about the future of Hamilton, city officials are hoping to get your input on how these resources should be used.

In particular, the 15-question survey asks about the state of housing maintenance, balance of rental and owner-occupied housing, public transportation, social services, historic preservation, infrastructure, and economic development strategies.

The survey takes only a few minutes to complete, and all responses, including those to demographic questions, are kept anonymous and confidential. Any questions should be directed to John Creech at Hamilton’s Department of Community Development at 513-785-7350 or

Stars Aligning for Cincinnati to Chicago High-Speed Rail

4123288130_f7b778d9d5_bLocal and national developments show positive signs for America’s oft-criticized national passenger railroad company, Amtrak. A railroad reform bill introduced in the Senate contains many positive changes for Amtrak and local support continues to grow for increased service on Cincinnati’s tri-weekly train to Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA, S.1626) was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to improve Amtrak service across the nation. The bill addresses several different issues for the railroad, including expansion, funding, and leadership. It also provides an increase in funding levels for the railroad through 2019.

In terms of leadership, the legislation would reorganize the board of directors for the railroad, with two representatives for the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, two for long-distance routes (the Cardinal), and two for state-supported lines. There would also be one “floating” member.

The RREEA also includes several sections that fuel possible future expansion of the national rail network by establishing a committee to facilitate communication and cooperation between states and Amtrak on state-supported routes. In addition, it would require Amtrak to work with an independent agency to evaluate all routes and review possible elimination of routes, expansion or extension of current routes, or the establishment of new ones.

While calling this clause problematic, the National Association of Railroad Passengers acknowledges that this text includes a “comprehensive framework for analyzing a route that recognize the unique benefits rail service provides.”

Section 301 of the act explicitly requires that the Department of Transportation set up a program to assist the operating costs of launching or restoring passenger rail transportation. The section seems to be a nod towards the amount of routes cut from the system over Amtrak’s 40-plus years of operation.

Additional clauses provide mechanisms for cooperation between states and the federal government, when it comes to addressing the backlog of capital projects within the system, Amtrak’s money-losing food service, and the restoration of service along the Gulf Coast, a line that has been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After the deadly derailment in Philadelphia in May, safety across the network is a major component of this legislation.

Both sponsoring senators touted the bipartisan nature of the bill and Senator Wicker’s office released a statement identifying the national passenger rail system as an “integral part of our overall transportation structure and our economy,” and thanking Senator Booker for his support and help in creating the bill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation voted on July 13 to include the RREEA Act into the broader transportation bill, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S.1732).

In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, support continues to grow for the expansion of rail service in the area, especially to Chicago.

The City of Hamilton recently applied to Amtrak for a stop and has passed a resolution of support for increased service. Nearby in Oxford, home of Miami University, initial approvals have been set to create a station for Amtrak, and efforts are currently underway to identify the exact location for that facility.

The effort has also gained support from the University of Cincinnati Student Senate, when they passed a resolution 31-1 in support of increased rail service to Chicago, citing Chicago as “an important transportation hub for students’ co-op travels, as well as an economic destination for students, staff, and faculty alike.”

According to All Aboard Ohio’s Southwest regional director, Derek Bauman, the UC student government president is also coordinating with other local university student governments to obtain resolutions of support; and in addition to Hamilton, both Norwood, where Amtrak employs local workers, and Wyoming, where the Cardinal line runs through, have also passed resolutions of support for increased passenger rail service.

Hamilton County commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution pursuing a feasibility study.

Going forward, Bauman says that there will be a need for increased cooperation and support from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations along the route. In Columbus, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has actively supported the implementation of a Columbus-Ft. Wayne-Chicago rail line; and in Northeast Ohio, a consortium of local MPOs have banded together and formed a sub-group to support increased rail service to the region.

From here, leadership at All Aboard Ohio says that they hope the OKI Regional Council of Governments will take a similar approach on behalf of the Cincinnati region.

$8.5M East High Gateway Project to be Completed This Summer

Over the past 15 years, the City of Hamilton has sought to beautify its inner-city by reconstructing the High-Main Street corridor. Along the way, City officials have attempted to use historically sensitive design treatments along what is Hamilton’s most-traveled thoroughfare.

This has meant reversing a decades-long policy agenda of installing more modern-styled public amenities in the hopes that they would encourage the private sector to restore historic buildings, create public interest in visiting downtown, and eventually lead to the rebirth of businesses.

Downtown, from the Great Miami River to MLK Boulevard, was the first district to receive this treatment. Shortly after that, the Main Street business district in historic Rossville, from the river and west to Millville and Eaton Roads, and the connector to the just-recently-constructed Butler County Veterans Highway, between State Route 4 and Fair Avenue.

The most recently completed upgrade was the replacement of the High-Main Street Bridge, which has long been the most-traveled bridge on the Great Miami between Middletown and the Ohio River.

Glaringly missing from these updates, however, was the stretch of High Street between MLK and Route 4, which is actually the primary entry for most visitors to the city. Recognizing the irony, City officials decided to begin the process in 2011 to secure funding to give it a much-needed facelift.

Dubbed the East High Gateway, it will extend the historic district overlay from downtown in the hope that the improvements will have the same positive effect on public perception and business investment that prior streetscaping projects have had when finished. City officials also plan to create a land bank for the area that will help the city return under-utilized parcels into better-use, tax-generating properties.

Originally slated for completion in mid-2014, the 15-month-long construction effort is now expected to be finished later this year. The $8.5 million project includes the installation of brick-lined sidewalks with bioswales, new street lighting, landscaped medians, and alley-like access to businesses along the route. It will also involve burying overhead utilities and upgrading existing underground utilities.

Project officials also hope that the changes improve the flow of traffic for those commuting from the more-residential west side of the city.

The East High Gateway is being paid for through a combination of city and state funds, and with support from the Hamilton Community Foundation. Ongoing project updates can be tracked by following @EastHighGateway on Twitter.

Grocer to Anchor $6.5M Redevelopment of Elder-Beerman in Downtown Hamilton

As the conversation continues about building a grocery store in downtown Cincinnati, developers and city leaders in downtown Hamilton are quickly moving forward with plans to install an organic grocery and deli in the first floor of the former Elder-Beerman department store on High Street.

The building has sat empty since 2009 when the struggling Dayton-based retailer shuttered its operations in Hamilton.

It is envisioned that Jackon’s Market & Deli will supply the city’s increasing downtown population with access to fresh meats and produce for the first time in decades. Hamilton Urban Garden Systems, a recently incorporated 501(c)3 non-profit that has been the primary catalyst behind urban community gardens taking root throughout the city, will provide some of the store’s locally grown produce.

Comparable stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Jungle Jim’s currently require most of Hamilton’s 62,000 residents to make a 15- to 30-minute drive.

Despite having a small footprint, the planned grocery is seen as an anchor to the $6.5 million redevelopment of one of Hamilton’s largest vacant buildings. Spearheaded by the CORE Fund, the project has already landed at least two other major private tenants.

The largest tenant will be a 40,000-square-foot call center for Denver-based StarTek, which will bring with it nearly 700 customer service jobs. Kettering Health Network will join them when they expand the reach of Fort Hamilton Hospital’s Joslin Diabetes Center, marking the return of healthcare services to downtown just blocks away from the former Mercy Hospital site. It will also include facilities for InsideOut Studio, an innovative art program administered by Butler County’s Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The multi-million-dollar project calls for a complete overhaul of the structure’s exterior facades, and a complete interior reconfiguration. Project officials say that it will be completed in several phases, with the majority of work expected to be completed by the end of 2015.